AAA Members-Look Skyward! 2017 Eclipse RV Travel Savings

You may have noticed our earlier discussion about the singular celestial event that’s coming to America in 2017. To refresh your memories, we’ll be enjoying a total solar eclipse over America on August 21, 2017. A special reason we’re highlighting this opportunity for RV travel again is that AAA members can save big when renting an RV to view the solar eclipse.

AAA members always enjoy RV rental discounts through El Monte RV Rental & Sales as part of their active membership. For this year’s total solar eclipse experience, the nationwide auto club is encouraging members to hit the road in an RV to find the optimal eclipse viewing sites.

This article on the 2017 eclipse in AAA’s April member newsletter offers information on where, when and how to view the eclipse. If you aren’t currently a AAA member, this link offers you the opportunity to join so you can take advantage of the RV rental discounts.  

Solar eclipse

Solar eclipse

Haven’t started making plans to see the moon’s shadow completely block the sun from Earthly viewers? Here are the details you’ll need to plan your 2017 total solar eclipse RV vacation:

When Will the Eclipse Occur?

The shadow of the moon will align to blot out the sun from our view for approximately two minutes at 10:15 a.m. PDT on the Pacific Coast near Newport, Oregon. That will be the North American debut of the 2017 solar eclipse. The moon’s shadow will then block the sun from sight in an arc across the US, moving back over the Atlantic off the South Carolina coast at 2:48 pm EDT.

Where Will the Total Eclipse be Visible?

This excellent map of the eclipse trajectory shows the fourteen states (from Oregon to South Carolina) crossed by the “path of totality”. On that path, there’s a sixty-mile band of optimum viewing of the entire eclipse event. Outside that band, you won’t be able to see the total eclipse and will have to settle for partial eclipse memories.

To help you plan your eclipse-viewing RV vacation, here are some of the cities within the path of totality:

Oregon: Newport, Corvallis, Madras, Salem

Idaho: Stanley, McKay, Idaho Falls

Montana: No cities within optimum viewing band, eight miles of remote mountain terrain only

Wyoming: Grand Teton National Park, Casper, Thermopolis

Nebraska: Scott’s Bluff, Hastings, Grand Island

Kansas: Troy, Atchison, Leavenworth

Missouri: St. Joseph, Columbia

Illinois: Carbondale, Chester

Kentucky: Bowling Green, Hopkinsville

Tennessee: Nashville, Gallatin, Clarksville

Georgia: Blairsville, Clayton

North Carolina: Andrews, Clingmans Dome area of Great Smoky Mountain NP

South Carolina: Anderson, Orangeburg, Columbia

Why Rent an RV to View the Eclipse?

As any experienced RV traveler can tell you, weather changes occur when you least expect them. Viewing the eclipse in all its glory will require staying ahead of cloud cover or storms. Two planning steps can help you win the race:

  •         Watch local forecasts for the area where you plan to view the eclipse. If heavy cloud cover or storms are predicted, have a Plan B viewing location in mind.
  •         Traveling by RV allows you to change plans quickly. The flexibility to move to a better location as the event approaches may make the difference between awesome eclipse viewing memories and traveling home disappointed.

AAA and El Monte RV Rental & Sales can help you plan the perfect eclipse viewing RV vacation, but you’ll need to act fast. Campgrounds are filling rapidly, so don’t delay any longer making your plans.

Where will you be when the sun goes dark on August 21, 2017?

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Traveling the Pine Ridge Country in Nebraska

Surrounding Pine Ridge National Recreation Area is a unique section of country to explore in your RV. About 67 miles of highway from Gordon to Crawford, Nebraska offers a vacation like you’ve never had before. Pine Ridge Country is unique in its vistas of pines and verdant plains. This is the ideal region to enjoy an RV vacation.

Perhaps you thought that Nebraska was flat, only cornfields stretching to the horizon. However, this isn’t the case in the high country of the state. In the northwest corner, you’ll find an attractive spot to enjoy all kinds of recreation.

On the highways stretching from Gordon to Crawford, Nebraska, local farmers and ranchers gathered together to offer special activities for those traveling through. There are a number of outdoor recreation and other activities you can enjoy as you visit the area in your RV.

The most popular sport in this region is hunting. At Kickback Ranch, off Highway 385, you’ll hunt turkey, coyote, mule deer and prairie chicken. If you love to hunt pheasants, you will find plenty at Table Top Hunting Preserve, as well as have the opportunity to bag some deer and turkey. Table Top is in Chadron, Nebraska. Beaver Creek flows through the Flying Heart Ranch in Hay Springs, where you’ll find not only great hunting opportunities for Merriam turkey and whitetail deer, but can view amazing Golden eagles in flight.

Park your motorhome for a while and take off across the countryside on horseback. You can bring your own horses to the High Country Ranch Ride to experience a fully guided trail ride filled with beautiful scenery and many wildlife viewings. Some ranches in the area provide the horses for you, like the Ponderosa Ranch in Crawford. In fact here you can experience what life is like on a real cattle ranch.

When you really want to learn to be a cowboy or cowgirl, try it out at One Lazy J Ranch in Whitney. Folks here often take a break from their motorhome vacations to unwind and practice roping, cutting cattle and working alongside real cattlemen.

Fishing is catch-and-release in Pine Ridge Country, but you are likely to catch a trophy catch of brown or rainbow trout. At Antelope Creek Ranch in Harrison, you can fish any of their three stocked ponds for large rainbows that may weigh as much as seven pounds.

On an RV vacation in Pine Ridge Country, you will find other great things to do like trying out some railroad photography in Crawford or visiting the Deadhorse Creek Market a few miles west of Chadron With so many opportunities for unique adventures, an RV vacation in northwest Nebraska will be something to remember for a lifetime.

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Nebraska’s Pine Ridge Country

Nebraska's Pine Ridge Region

Nebraska’s Pine Ridge Region

Though the drive through Pine Ridge Country from Gordon to Crawford, Nebraska is a relatively short distance, it’s long on variety of scenery. If you want to experience the West as closely preserved as you can during your motorhome vacation, this one’s not to be missed. It’s best visited spring through fall, and offers a host of natural and cultural attractions that can stretch it far longer than the 1.5 hour driving time might suggest.

The village of Gordon was officially organized in 1885, when the lure of free homestead land and the creation of the railroad brought settlers in search of new opportunities. Gordon is home to the Scamahorn and the Tri-State Old Time Cowboys Museums, which display the rich history of the area.

Proceeding west on US 20, the route travels across a grassy desert known as Sand Hills. The rolling terrain is actually made of sand dunes that are anchored by the grasses that grow there. Because the land is largely unsuitable for crops (though it has supported large herds of cattle) most of the region has never been plowed, which means that the plant and animal life has been virtually undisturbed. The area is home to Mule Deer, Coyotes, and Red Fox, as well as a large variety of bird, bat, and fish species. Keep the camera and binoculars handy!

Your RV will take you through the small towns of Rushville and Hay Springs, and up onto the Pine Ridge proper, which is a 100 mile long escarpment from which the area takes its name. The land here is higher, with the hills covered in a softwood forest where you might see bighorn sheep or elk. You will drive into Chadron, a town of 6000 people with a Main St. that features excellent examples western architecture. Taking a side trip down US 385 from here will lead you to Chadron State Park, about 9 miles south. This beautiful park features hiking, swimming, horseback riding, and RV camping.

Continuing along US 20 from Chadron to Crawford, you’ll be able to see rolling terrain to the north and the first hints of the Badlands to the south. Crawford is home to Fort Robinson State Park. Fort Robinson itself is important in the history of the west – it is here that Chief Crazy Horse was killed. During WWII, the fort was used to house German prisoners.

As the western end of the drive, Fort Robinson has 100 sites with electrical hookups available to the motorhome vacationer. They are can be reserved a year in advance. The shady campground offers full concessions, as well as fishing and swimming. For more information, contact the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission’s Fort Robinson site.

Using Fort Robinson as a base, you can visit Oglala National Grasslands by travelling 15 miles north on SR2, as well as the strangely named Toadstool Park, home to equally strange mushroom shaped rock formations.

If you’re interested in experiencing the rich natural heritage and western cultural traditions of the Nebraska Pine Ridge Country as part of your RV vacation, this trip’s not to be missed!

Picture credits: The picture of Nebraska’s Pine Ridge Region is from the Wikimedia Commons. It is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic license.

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Falling for Family Fun in Omaha, Nebraska

For some, RVing is a coast-to-coast sort of adventure. But if you’re traveling with kids, that many miles can add up to misery. So why not focus on what’s number one in your heart at the heart of it all? Smack in the center of the country, at the intersection of Interstates 29 and 80, Omaha provides the perfect place to pump some fun into a family vacation. Beyond the usual cows and cornfields, this Midwestern metropolitan wonderland beats with culture, history, nature, and adventure. Here, I’ve outlined a five-day RV itinerary that’ll give you lots to love about this lovely city.

Day 1: Downtown

Appropriately, this adventure begins at the heart of Omaha – downtown’s Heartland of America Park, that is. At this urban oasis next to ConAgra’s campus, discover fountains (including a 300-foot jet), gondola rides, bronze sculptures, history exhibits detailing the adventures of Lewis & Clark, and a primo pedestrian bridge. You may also want to stroll along Gene Leahy Mall (just west of the park), which wends around a picturesque lagoon and hosts summer outdoor concerts. The playgrounds here provide the perfect place for kids to burn off energy.

A few blocks away, the Old Market District offers curious shops, boutiques, and bars in renovated warehouses that are worth exploring. Street performers and artists offer alfresco entertainment and horse-drawn carriages provide tours of the district. For dinner, you’ll find upwards of 30 restaurants to choose from, but Spaghetti Works is always a sure bet.

If the little ones get antsy over window-shopping (or the humidity is stifling), then opt for one of the area’s kid-friendly museums. There’s the Joslyn Art Museum (try the themed scavenger hunts), Omaha Children’s Museum (with an outdoor water play area and a science center for curious kiddos), or Durham Museum in Union Station (where you can travel back in time).

In the evening, follow Highway 75 north to one of two city parks just beyond the I-680 bypass. Set up camp at Glen Cunningham Lake, situated on a 390-acre watery expanse, or N.P. Dodge Park, tucked alongside the Missouri River.

Day 2: Downtown

Turtle at the Henry Doorly Zoo

Turtle at the Henry Doorly Zoo

Allow a full day to explore the top-ranked Henry Doorly Zoo, which boasts the world’s largest indoor rainforest (complete with swinging bridges) and glass-dome desert, an orangutan forest and gorilla valley, an IMAX theater, a butterfly pavilion, and plenty more. Take in the view from above with the Skyfari aerial tram and from below in the Kingdom of the Seas Aquarium’s 70-foot glass shark tunnel.

While it’s easiest to lunch inside the zoo, for dinner, choose one of downtown’s unique eateries. Locals love Anthony’s or Gorat’s for those famous Omaha steaks, Brewburger’s inside-out burger and brisket sammies, Piccolo Pete’s Italian steakhouse, and California Tacos for deep-fried tacos.

Before bunking down back at camp, stretch your legs on a stroll along the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge, which links Nebraska and Iowa. With its lights ablaze and a stunning view of the downtown skyline, the bridge offers a spectacular sunset view.

Day 3: Downtown & West

Before kissing downtown goodbye, walk through the lush Lauritzen Gardens, a breathtaking 100-acre arboretum showcasing rose, Victorian, herb, and children’s gardens. When you’re finished browsing the blooms, hit the road via Bancroft Street alongside Kenefick Park to catch site of the Union Pacific train memorial.

Heading west on I-80, exit onto 60th Street and make a midday stop at the mixed-use Aksarben Village, where you’ll find Godfather’s Pizza and Jones Brothers Cupcakes (famous for their win on Food Network’s Cupcake Wars), plus Stinson park and the University of Nebraska at Omaha’s south campus.

Leave via US-6W and finish the afternoon driving through the National Historic Landmark Boys Town, an inspiring village for homeless and troubled children started in the 1920s by Father Edward Flanagan. At the Visitors Center, pick up a map for directions past the community’s top sites, including fountains, statues, and the Hall of History.

Settle in at the West Omaha KOA grounds, an easy half-hour drive away, for the next two nights.

Day 4: Southwest

Get your hearts racing this morning at Wildlife Safari Park, a North American adventure trail in nearby Ashland that’s maintained by the Henry Doorly Zoo. Whether you choose to hike or drive through, keep your eyes peeled for wolves, bison, black bears, elk, and awesome avian specimens. Pack a picnic for DIY dining in the Wolf Canyon lot.

In the afternoon, shift your attention from Mother Earth to an out-of-this world exploration at Ashland’s Strategic Air Command Museum, an amazing, interactive aerospace collection that will have you flying high for the rest of the day.

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RV Camping Trip to Niobrara National Scenic River

In the Sand Hills of Nebraska, near the South Dakota border, lies a treasure waiting to be discovered by RV camping fans. The Niobrara National Scenic River winds its way almost five hundred miles across Northern Nebraska, with seventy-six miles set aside by the National Park Service as a “Wild and Scenic River.” Not only can you expect unforgettable scenery and outstanding outdoor recreation opportunities there, you’ll also find the surrounding area filled with Great Plains charm.

To reach the National Scenic River section of the Niobrara, head for Valentine, Nebraska, a cheerful place filled with Old West panache. Coming from I90, you’ll exit at Hwy 83 and travel about seventy miles south to Valentine. If you’re traveling I80, you’ll head north on Hwy 83 at the North Platte exit and drive one hundred thirty miles to reach Valentine.

Let’s back up a moment, though, and answer the question, “What, exactly, would make me want to drive to Nebraska to see this river?” The best answer is, “The chance to experience the historic attractions, scenic beauty and small-town hospitality of the Great Plains.” And that doesn’t even take into account the first-rate, riverside RV camping.

Speaking of outdoor attractions that draw RV travelers to the region, here’s a list of the top five reasons you’ll return for another look:

  1. The Bridges of the Niobrara (PDF) attract history lovers and photographers in every season. Of the fifteen bridges within the National Scenic River area, five are listed on the National Register of Historic Structures. Take time to enjoy such architectural wonders as Allen Bridge, built in 1903, award-winning Bryan Bridge built in 1932 and the Verdigre Bridge at Smith Falls State Park.
  2. Cowboy Trail will soon be known as the longest Rails-to-Trails conversion (three hundred twenty miles) in the United States. Still under construction in some areas, this crushed limestone path leads bikers, hikers and horseback riders through remote prairie corridors home to bald eagles, turkey vultures and a whole host of prairie mammals. Be sure to check the official website for information on trail closures as you plan your RV trip.
  3. Niobrara River boating brings many kayaking, canoeing and tubing enthusiasts during summer months. A number of Niobrara National Scenic River outfitters are listed on the NPS site to help you plan your float trip, or you can bring your own vessels and test your skills on Class II rapids.
  4. Waterfalls rushing down rugged rock faces to the river’s edge are a special treat for paddlers. Springs and waterfalls dot the riverbank and provide another layer of beauty to the hardwood forests, high bluffs and rocky shores that border the Niobrara.
  5. Wildlife Viewing opportunities are abundant both along the river corridor and at nearby Fort Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge, where bison, elk, deer and prairie dogs are among the species you’ll see on the Wildlife Drive.

Now that you’re persuaded that a trip to the Niobrara National Scenic River is in order, you’ll need to know where to find the best RV camping. Here are some suggestions for comfortable camping near or on the river:

  • Fritz’s Island Campground on the north side of the river, near Sparks, NE offers up-to-date amenities
  • Riverside RV Park & Campground near Valentine is famous for its friendly staff

The Niobrara Valley in Northern Nebraska holds mysteries that can only be unlocked when you get out onto its rivers and trails. Create your own Niobrara vacation memories with an RV trip to explore this Wild and Scenic River.

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