2015 Road Trip: Dinosaur National Monument and Utah KOAs—the Deluxe Edition

PREVIOUS: Devils Tower, Mt. Rushmore, and the Badlands

What a full week and a half of adventure we had! It was time to turn around and go home — but not before we put our National Parks Pass to good use one more time.

We left Interior, SD and headed southwest. I’ve been up early doing laundry since we were down to our last outfits. It’s no fun smelling “gamey” while on the road. After a stop at a gas station for a break, the weather started to warm up and we noticed that the AC in our van was not cold. After a while of fiddling with buttons, our frustrations grew into dread—The rest of our trip was through the desert…in mid-July. We stopped in Casper, WY to diagnose the problem and found out that our compressor was out. Luckily, our van was still under warranty when it went out (when does that ever happen)?

We had one stop before we hit Vernal, Utah, where we’d be staying in a KOA Deluxe Cabin (with air conditioning). Unfortunately, that stop was in Rawlins, WY. Why unfortunately? Well, there’s not much in Rawlins except an historic penitentiary. We spent so much time trying to fix our AC problem that we arrived at our campsite at the RV World Campground after hours. The reviews of this campground were wishy-washy, but I booked it hoping that the new ownership would have taken care of some issues. Well, let’s just say that they were still taking care of some issues while we were there. One issue—upgrading bathrooms. We couldn’t use the bathrooms or showers because they were painting them. It made it a bit difficult and uncomfortable but luckily we were only there overnight. The staff who were there were pretty courteous and apologetic, though.  As we left the campsite in the morning, a few deer wandered into our spot — the only highlight of our stay there.

Flaming Gorge

The drive through southern Wyoming and into northeastern Utah was gorgeous as we drove through the Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area. We were blessed that the weather wasn’t scorching hot and even had a little cloud cover. It sure helped with the lack of AC.

VERNAL / DINOSAURLAND KOA

We arrived at the Vernal / Dinosaurland KOA early to see if they could check us in (and get us out of the heat). The woman at the front desk was very kind and had a nice gentleman lead us to our deluxe cabin which was generously given to us, compliments of KOA.  After staying in tents for most of the trip and having a bad experience at the last campsite, being in air conditioning with REAL BEDS was quite nice. 

The deluxe cabin was what you thought a cabin should look like. It had a wooden exterior along with a cute, covered porch including a swing. Down below is a barbecue grill and picnic table for outdoor dining.

Inside was a small living / dining / kitchen area fully stocked with cooking utensils, pots, dishes and silverware. It even had a full-size fridge and a cooking range with microwave. The windows were covered with a gingham curtain and just that little touch made it feel so homey.

Pretty much everything you need to cook and eat with!

The hallway was flanked with the bathroom on one side and bunk beds on the other and ended with the master bedroom with a queen-sized bed.

Bunk beds in hallway

 

No community bathrooms for us!

 

Master bedroom with queen bed and a pocket door

 

The place was so comfortable that I was a little sad to be only staying for one night. The whole KOA campground was well-maintained with nice little touches such as flower pots at every site,  a nice seating area for RV sites, a large decorative fire ring for group and family tent sites, and individual tent sites under trees. This must have been the best-looking KOA we’ve ever been to!

Dinosaur National Monument

After we brought our items in the cabin and cooled down, we headed to Dinosaur National Monument. The drive to the monument was through flower-lined streets then changed to family-owned farms. The thought of dinosaur fossils likely under this area was pretty fascinating.  

Beautiful visitors center at Dinosaur National Monument

We pulled up to Dinosaur National Monument and were hit by a hot gust of wind. As we entered the visitors center we heard the announcement that the next shuttle was leaving and seized the opportunity to catch it. The shuttle led to a building built around the quarry where a plethora of fossils were found. The building was two stories with a upper and lower viewing platform of the fossils.

Fossil quarry building

Millions of years ago, a flash flood washed dinosaur bones and carcasses into this area, resulting in fossil “log jam” — thus the reason for the high concentration of fossils. Most of the bones were from camarasaurus and stegosaurus.  It was quite impressive seeing the dinosaur bones exposed in the ground as if they were still doing an excavation. 

The quarry

We had the option to take a few trails that led to some fossils and petroglyphs but the weather turned stormy and the wind picked up with lightning and thunder — quite the contrast to when we arrived. Instead, we took a short scenic drive that stopped at a river access and watched people float downstream.

Back to the Cabin…

On our way back to the campsite we stopped by a house that had a sign for $2/dozen eggs. It felt quite sketchy knocking on someone’s door to ask for eggs. It was better that Thom asked for them rather than me. He came back with a carton filled with a dozen colorful eggs along with a good story of his experience inside. The eggs must have come from a variety of backyard chickens and not specifically an egg farm. It felt special to have these (at quite the deal)!

We also picked up some “spirits” for dinner. Did you know that in Utah that you could only purchase full-strength beer (above 3.2% alcohol by volume) in state-run liquor stores? Everything in the grocery stores are watered down! You can’t even bring in alcohol from other states (forget about brining in your favorite Zinfandel from the Central Coast of CA).

Once we arrived at the cabin, we were happy to see that they gave us linens for the bunk beds since we only had the queen sheets to fit our air mattresses. The weather cleared up and we had a quick “linner” before we headed for the pool. The pool was clean and had a nice covered patio to relax under. After the pool I made a real dinner and let the kids play in the playground which had an awesome, tall metal slide. The whole family took turns going down — I felt like a kid again.

KOA Vernal / Dinosaurland Pool

Mini-golf course

Since one of the best parts of camping is meeting your neighbors, we sought out a community campfire and spotted a family preparing one in a large fire ring. They allowed us to use their fire to prepare the last of our s’mores and we chatted until it got dark. We get to know our “neighbors” even though we weren’t in a tent.

Back in the cabin, we prepared for a good night’s sleep. It was nice to have our own shower, bathroom and a bedroom door that closes after not having that luxury for quite a while. 

RICHFIELD KOA

Our next destination was to the Richfield KOA with another complimentary stay in a deluxe cabin. As we left Vernal we drove through striped gorges with small oil pumps placed around almost every bend. Around another bend we spotted an old cemetery with a wooden turnstile. Thom walked around to visit the graves and said that some plots have slightly caved in.

I know what you’re thinking, “What’s in Richfield?” To be honest, I didn’t know myself. I was looking on a map for a location that was between Vernal and Las Vegas that had a KOA. Richfield was one of the larger cities (though still small) in south-central Utah. 

We arrived at the Richfield KOA which was tucked away at the end of a neighborhood street. In my conversation with the owner, I learned that this location was a popular stopping point for other destinations (same reason why we ended up there). Grand Escalante National Park was about an hour away and Fishlake National Forest was nearby. Not to mention that it’s about the halfway point between Los Angeles and Denver.

The campsites were great for people who go off-roading with room to park their ATVs. The campground even had an entrance to an ATV trail.

Our deluxe cabin was much different from our last one. It was a more modern-looking building with a small porch entryway with double glass doors. Outside was a small grass yard with a concrete pad with a picnic table and a gas grill on the side of the building.

The living/dining area had a kitchenette (no stove) and a small hotel-size fridge. It was also stocked with dishes and utensils needed for dining. There was a small TV above the dining table that faced the couch on the opposite side. Thom thought the TV could have been bigger… I say we don’t go camping to watch TV!

The kids bunk bed area had a unique layout — it was tucked into a small room with half of it hiding behind a wall. Each of the beds had a small, curtained window and the girls could control their own lights and fan. The kids really liked the idea of having their own room. 

In the master bedroom was a queen bed with a storage armoire. It was a tight fit to safely fit the baby’s PeaPod (or even a portable crib if we had one) so we had to put her just outside the door of our room.

We liked the outdoorsy/rustic touches with the moose-themed bedding and metal flour sifter for holding bathroom items. 

Playground next to our cabin

The Richfield KOA was still undergoing more improvements under the new ownership. The mini-golf course was out of commission but it looked like it was being repaired or replaced. They also just added a laundry facility behind their game room. It was a smaller KOA but it was well-maintained and clean. I think it will be even better once they finish their projects. 

We had quite a relaxing day knowing that we didn’t have to race against time to make it anywhere. It was nice to “just chill” for the first time on our trip. We enjoyed the campground by swimming, cooking an early dinner then exploring the small town of Richfield.

Richfield KOA pool

We found a really cool park down the street with an interactive game and a fun, modern, playground. It was a very popular spot for families.

On the way back we stopped at Ideal Dairy for ice cream. What a gem! If you’re ever near Richfield you HAVE to stop here. The prices are very reasonable (and we’re cheapskates) and not to mention the variety of ice cream is unique. We only paid $5.65 for a banana split with 3 scoops of ice cream, three toppings, nuts and whipped cream. The extra toppings were at no additional charge! We filled up on dessert and got a package of homemade sugar cookies to-go.

Cute lunch counter

We really enjoyed our stay at the Richfield KOA. With a friendly staff and comfortable cabin, it really was great to have a stress-free day before the grueling drive to Vegas. 

Wolf and prairie dog saying goodnight!

My thoughts on “Deluxe Camping”

As we stayed in the deluxe cabins, all I could think of was how fun it would be to get my sister and girlfriends together and stay in one of these cabins. My sister is not the “camping type” because of the dirt, bugs, lack of beds and shower situation — pretty much everything except being among nature. I guess a stay here could be considered “glamping.” It would be a worry-free (and less dirty) way to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city and just enjoy your friends and nature— the main reason why people camp. Don’t get me wrong, my family still enjoys “roughing it” but every now and then, it’s nice to enjoy some creature comforts. 

Reflecting on little blessings

We were pretty bummed when the AC went out on the van. We were blessed that Mossy Nissan honored the warranty even though it would be over 36,000 when we could get it serviced.  Driving through the desert, the weather never got too hot because of the overcast skies. When it started to warm up, we were pretty close to each of the KOA locations. Instead of setting up a tent and sleeping in the heat, we only had to bring in our food and clothes into our cabin. To say that we were appreciative of our situation is an understatement. God’s fingerprints were all over this experience so far.

UP NEXT: Lake Las Vegas and Home

Disclosure: KOA gave us two complimentary stays in a deluxe cabin in exchange for a review. All opinions are my own.