It feels so good to finally be back in the Pacific Northwest! The first thing we always notice when coming back is the trees. They just don’t seem to grow this tall anywhere else! Plus, we were on our way to Leavenworth, somewhere I had been wanting to go ever since we bought the Alpha Uno.
Leavenworth is a small town in central Washington that is modeled entirely off of a Bavarian village. The town grew from the location of a small sawmill in the late 1800s to the headquarters of the Great North Railroad in the early 1900s. However, the Railroad relocated in the 1920s leaving the town to struggle with a limited economy. During the 1960s a local committee went about trying to revitalize the town and came up with the idea of transforming Leavenworth into a “theme” town. One by one, the local buildings were remodeled to resemble a Bavarian village. Businesses changed their names to match the Bavarian theme. New businesses began to arrive along with the tourists. It helped that Leavenworth was situated in a picturesque mountain valley (much like Ouray, Colorado). Overall, the whole experiment seemed to be a success. Leavenworth is now a thriving tourist town with adorable boutiques, local artisans, and yummy restaurants.
The whole thing is a bit silly and kitschy, but I love it. Writing this I realize that we have now toured three different European theme towns in three months. I think we need to start planning a trip across the pond!
But before we go anywhere we need to stop for groceries.
After leaving Glacier we stopped for the night in Spokane, Washington. Leavenworth is still a small town and we had some errands to run that required stopping at a few big box stores, specifically a Best Buy or equivalent large electronics retailer. We were also really tired of paying small-town high prices for groceries.
We stayed at the North Spokane RV Campground, which was probably the cleanest park we have ever stayed at. The grass around our spot was perfectly mowed, perfectly green, and our parking pad very recently leaf-blown. After we parked, I watched out our window while two campground employees discussed what to do about a small patch of dead grass in our yard. Seriously. The dead patch was next to the sewer dump and probably caused by someone having a spill while emptying their tanks. Still, most campgrounds never get close to the level of concern this place did. They take their grass very seriously. It was only an overnighter so we didn’t use the pool, shower, or laundry facilities but I can only imagine they were as meticulously maintained.
On the other hand, the whole place did have a bit of a pleasantville-feeling to it. A wonderful place to camp for people who hate getting dirty! Or full-timers like ourselves who really need to run a few errands. The campground was within five minutes of every type of store we could possibly need.
The next morning we made the rest of the drive to our spot in Leavenworth. We were staying at the Thousand Trails campground about 20 minutes outside of town.
Thousand Trails is a membership campground that we recently joined. This would be our first stay at one of their campgrounds. This is how it works. Thousand Trails campgrounds are located all over the United States and advertise being more “campground” like than private RV park like, i.e., they are generally further outside of town, on large pieces of land, and offer hiking trails and more of the “camping experience” that you typically get from state and national parks. Thousand Trails divides the U.S. into regions (NW, SW, SE, NE). You pay about $500 to gain access to one of the camping “regions”. A one year membership allows you to camp at any Thousand Trails park in that region for free for 30 days. After that you have to pay three dollars a night. The catch is that you cannot say at any park for more than 14 days and once you have stayed at a park for 4 days you cannot stay at any Thousand Trails park for the next 7 days.
We did the math and decided that we only needed to stay at Thousand Trails parks for a little more than two weeks for it to be worth the money, in our opinion. And there are Thousand Trails parks close to a bunch of areas we want to visit while out west. We generally pay $30 to $40 a night for campsites with hook-ups. We don’t always need a hook-up, but Thousand Trails campgrounds also come with amenities like Wifi (at the clubhouse at least) and laundry, both of which we need frequently. As a bonus, when we signed up they were offering a special which got us access to two regions for the price of one. We picked NW and SW.
This is our first experience with Thousand Trails and so far we think it was a good choice to join. If you have any additional questions about Thousand Trails (or this specific campground), comment or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll see if we can answer your questions. We may not be great at responding to comments promptly but we really do love hearing from you!
One odd thing about the Thousand Trails parks is that you pick your spot when you arrive. Each spot is different and they are all (sort of) first-come first-serve. All parks take reservations but they won’t guarantee you a specific spot or guarantee a full hook-up. This sounds fine but was a little weird in practice.
The park was pretty large and the roads very narrow so it took a while to traverse the park looking for an open spot in the RV. This would have been an easier process if they had let us park the RV at the entrance lot, unhook the Jeep, and search for our spot in the Jeep. We asked and they said we had to drive the RV to look for our spot. We were not the only one’s looking for a spot at this hour so the whole place became a traffic jam of people stopping to scope out whether a particular spot was big enough for their 40-foot motorhome with three slides and people trying to back-up fifth-wheel trailers for the first time. At 37 feet we also require quite a bit of room and drove past numerous spots that were not quite long enough for us. This made us wonder if it was possible to make a reservation at a Thousand Trails park and then not be able to use it because there wasn’t a spot available that was big enough for your rig. Hmmmm . . .
In the end we were able to find a spot big enough to fit both Alpha and Gunner comfortably and we had plenty of privacy too! We were also right across the road from most of the trailheads.
For our first night we stayed at camp, set up our hippie-sheet privacy screen, and made tortilla soup on our Coleman stove (thank you, Nina!) .
Tortilla soup is one of my favorite “pantry meals” because I more often than not have everything to make it on hand. Sometimes the details change, for example this pot was made with fresh tomatoes instead of canned and kidney beans instead of black beans and didn’t have any fresh jalapeno, but it’s always delicious.
I’ve been keeping a day-by-day journal of our trip ever since we left after the wedding. Between my journal, saving maps from everywhere we go, and my detailed calendar log, I can generally remember all the details of the when, what, where. This is particularly helpful when I get behind on the blog and need to catch up after the fact.
The next day we planned to make our way into town but first Brandon wanted to have a look at our alternator. We had noticed a problem with our charging system on our way to Leavenworth from Spokane. The volt meter while driving was reading 11.8 volts instead of the usual 14 volts. This made us think that our alternator was not charging properly. The strange thing was that the volt meter never dropped too low to operate so we just kept chugging along. In a car, a malfunctioning alternator would mean that the car would eventually just die. Our initial suspicion was that our solar panel was trickle charging the batteries just enough to keep things going without a fully functioning alternator, but as of now the real answer is still a mystery. The RV is also old enough to have many mechanical systems instead of electric, for example our fuel pump, which aided in our low electrical draw.
While Brandon was messing with the alternator I went for a hike on one of the park’s many trails. All of the trails intertwine with one another and only cover about five miles total. I didn’t bring a map with me and eventually covered nearly all five miles trying to find my way back to camp. I even reached the “summit” at 2270 feet!
When I returned to camp Brandon told me that he had been unable to find a new alternator locally so had decided not to remove the old one in case he broke something in the process and stranded us without an alternator. We would just continue limping along and save the project for a more developed area, probably Portland. With the alternator project abandoned for now, we both cleaned up and headed into town.
We had dinner at the Andrea Keller restaurant, which was exactly what I wanted: grilled sausages, german potato salad, and sauerkraut. Oh, and beer. Yum!
Even though we ate an early dinner, we still found most of the shops to be closed by the time we were finished. Other than restaurants and bars, the shops appear to all close around 6 pm. However, we did manage to walk through Kris Kringl’s before it closed. The store is two stories devoted almost entirely to Christmas decor. Other than a few small Halloween displays the store was all holly jolly all the time. Leavenworth is somewhat known for its love of Christmas and I can only imagine how beautiful this place looks in December covered in lights and snow.
The following day was a zero day because we really needed to clean house, do laundry, and spend some quality time with the wifi at the clubhouse. I had been unable to update the blog for the past week or so because the memory on my laptop was completely full. I needed to transfer about 38 gigs of photos onto my external hard drive to get anything done. Because of some annoying Apple features involving automatic cloud storage I needed a good wifi source to move the photos. In the end I had only moderate success. Another wifi day would be needed.
With my backpack full of computer gear and snacks I felt like I was back in school heading off to study at the library. I even had a bag of gummi bears strapped to my bag. Gummi Bears make excellent study snacks, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
The next day was another day exploring downtown Leavenworth, except this time we left much earlier so we could actually do some shopping.
We started with lunch at Munchen Haus. We loved the super casual beer garden and the food was great. The menu is pretty limited, just different types of sausages on buns and potato salad or soft pretzels on the side. But they had homemade sauerkraut and a huge variety of mustards to dress it up. The potato salad was my favorite in Leavenworth, but mostly because it reminded me of the potato salad we used to buy from a little Bavarian market near our house in Portland.
A few years ago my mom started giving me nutcrackers each year for Christmas. She wanted to start a new family tradition and it worked! I started giving her nutcrackers as well. So you can bet that we would be going to the Leavenworth Nutcracker Museum to find the perfect nutcracker for my mom!
The museum is a total trip. I had no idea that someone could be this into nutcrackers, and not just the toy solider variety. They had devices used to crack nuts from all over the world. Many were antiques.
It was strange but also fascinating. The place is a demonstration of one couple’s very unusual life’s work and a true labor of love.
I can’t imagine why this one didn’t go into production. It’s not creepy at all!
We thought these lady leg “nutcrackers” were rather humorous and I wondered if it was intended as a joke. Probably not. I suspect the slang use of the word “nuts” is a 20th century invention.
Literally something for everyone.
Brandon truly believes that if you’re not sweating you’re not eating. So when we saw this display of nearly lethal hot sauce I told him, “Go ahead, I bet you’ll like it.” He didn’t even hesitate. And I was ready with the camera to catch his reaction to having his taste buds burned off.
When I saw that he was truly suffering (he could hardly even talk) I walked him directly to an ice cream store. Problem solved.
We keep camping near beautiful lakes and rivers but don’t have a way to get out and play on the water. The solution? Rent inflatable kayaks for a couple of hours!
The company we rented the kayaks from met us in town and shuttled us up river so we could paddle back to our car down river. Then they met us at our car a few hours later to pick up the kayaks. Pretty simple.
It took us around three hours or so to kayak back to the meeting point. We paddled down the Icicle River to the Wenachee River that runs through Leavenworth. The water was cold and clear but it was very hot out so it felt great. We were just about the only people on the Icicle River but it became very crowded as soon as we intersected with the Wenachee. This is closer to town and there were tons of people out enjoying the water on just about anything that floats. It reminded me of the San Marcos River near my alma mater, Texas State University, where students float down the river on inflatable dolphins and air mattresses.
This was my first time kayaking so I was slower than Brandon at first, but eventually got the hang of it.
After our kayaking adventure we had pizza at Idyllwild Pizza downtown and it was heavenly, exactly what we needed after a day on the water.
Our final goal in Leavenworth was to meet up with Charlie and Stacia, the former owners of the Alpha 1. Charlie and Stacia had lived in the RV while traveling around the PNW and are responsible for much of the remodeling that was done. They took down all of the terrible blue-swirl wallpaper, the ugly fabric window valances, and painted the walls a peaceful green. They also ripped out all of the carpet and put down laminate wood flooring. Side note: I’ve honestly never understood why RVs come with wall to wall carpet. Exactly where are you supposed to store a vacuum cleaner on an RV? And who wants to vacuum while out camping? Sweeping is much easier.
All of their hard work is what made the Alpha 1 look like a home and not just another outdated RV from the 90s. This was also one of the reasons we picked this RV over the others. Thank you guys! We have loved living here!
When we met Stacia in Bend, Oregon (Charlie was at work in Alaska at the time) she was seven months pregnant with their first child. The RV had been their home but they wanted more space to raise their new baby.
We had just returned from a very disappointing trip to Sacramento, where we thought we were picking up “the one”, the RV that would be our new home. In a story that many of you know, the deal for the old MCI bus conversion fell through and I spent the entire eleven-hour drive home scouring the internet for “the one”. We knew it was out there and we were determined to find it. I eventually came across Stacia’s Craigslist ad and sent her an email at around 1 am. We left at around 7 am the next morning to meet Stacia with the RV in Bend. The rest, as they say, is history.
Catching up with Stacia (and finally meeting Charlie) was such a great way to take the story full circle. While we were in Leavenworth they were actually in the process of packing up their house and moving to Bend to be closer to family. We know from experience how crazy moving can be and were super thankful that they found some time to hang out with us. And I think it made them happy to see that we had actually done it. Lots of people talk about selling everything and taking off on a grand adventure and we are among the lucky few that have actually made the dream a reality.