Marking Half a Century Together with a Cross-Country Road Trip
Some couples organize a big family party to celebrate their golden wedding anniversary. Others might take a cruise or fly to an overseas destination that’s long been on their “Must See” list.
But for Archie and Shirley Wilkins, their upcoming fiftieth anniversary was going to be marked in a way that fit their half-century together. They planned a cross-country road trip in their 2017 TAB CS, revisiting some locations while adding new ones to their travel list.
nuCamp caught up with the happy couple after they completed their anniversary travels to ask how their trip went and what their secret is for traveling happily together on the road and through life.
When asked what the reason for their five decades of success as a married couple and as travelers for that same amount of time, Archie’s answer was succinct. “Our relationship is based on lifelong commitment and mutual respect along with a dose of compromise,” he said.
Shirley added that the secret to their compatibility on the road was really no different from everyday life. “Our Christian faith in God has been the foundation of our marriage, so those beliefs lead us in how we treat each other, whether at home or on the road,” she explained. “Many decisions are made because we both want to do something, while some are made because of Archie’s interests, and some are made because of mine. There is give-and-take in our relationship, not just based on what one person wants or needs.”
Prior to Archie’s retirement, their yearly road trips ranged from two weeks to six weeks and included travels to the Pacific Coast, the Southwest, Yellowstone, and the Grand Tetons with local state parks a favorite destination. In some cases, such as their trips to Alaska and the Canadian Rockies, they opted to fly to the location rather than take their camper, due to the time constraints of Archie’s job. Others, like the six weeks across the country to the West Coast, were camping.
“That particular trip was our first long camping road trip in 1978 in our first ‘RV’ — a 1962 Apache popup camper,” recalled Shirley. “We’ve also camped up and down the east coast in various locations usually one to two weeks at a time. Archie has always been blessed with a generous amount of vacation time, so we were always able to go somewhere, whether far or close to home. Our pattern while raising children seemed to be a longer trip every other year and more local the other years. But that was usually determined by what other activities we were involved in with what the children were doing.”
So, when it came to planning something special for their fiftieth wedding anniversary, a road trip seemed a natural fit. All that was needed was to choose a destination. Initially, said Shirley, when they first started talking about the trip five years ago after buying their TAB, the focus was on the national parks.
“We’ve always had an interest in our national parks,” she said, “and over the years have visited approximately 30 of them. I have the National Parks Passport album and kept track of them. So, as we began talking about a 50-year trip we thought we would like to visit all the national parks over a year-long trip. But as we hashed out that thinking, we decided it was too long to be away from our home, which is a small farm and requires maintenance throughout the year.”
Instead, they decided to concentrate on one location, reviewing the various places they had been to and always wanted to revisit. “Utah kept coming to the front, since we were always curious about the three national parks we had missed on our first trip to southern Utah: Arches, Canyonlands and Capitol Reef. As you travel around, there are some places that just seem to ‘speak’ to a person for some unknown reason. Utah was that way with us.”
Added Archie, “Arches has always been a favorite of mine, in particular Delicate Arch. I had the image of that arch as my screen saver long before we began planning our trip.”
Utah it was, they decide. The couple began their trip on August 30, leaving their home state of Pennsylvania and heading first to Colorado, before going on to Utah and Arizona. During their travels, they hiked a total of 45 miles and spent many enjoyable hours chatting with people they met along the way.
The Wilkins made friends with a couple from California who was traveling with a larger trailer and stopped by to see their TAB. The couples soon learned they had a lot and common. Their new friends were on a trip heading east and left early the day after they met up with the Wilkins. That evening, the Wilkins returned to their camper after a day out to find a note taped to the door of their TAB from the campground office saying the California couple wanted them to have their phone number, so they called from the road and made the request.
“I messaged them and we’ve been in contact ever since,” Shirley said. “While we both completed our respective trips, we shared pictures of where we were, and now at home, we are still in contact. We hope to visit again someday if we ever get to California or they to Pennsylvania. Meeting people is definitely one of the highlights of travel.”
While some locations were old favorites, others were first-time destinations, including Central City, CO where they spent the four-day Labor Day weekend. While there, they drove up the Mount Evans Scenic Byway to Summit Lake at 12,000 feet elevation. Also new to them were the three previously mentioned Utah national parks as well as Dead Horse Point, Kodachrome state parks, and several other federal lands and sites in between.
Along with the national and state parks, the couple also made time for other well-known tourist locations; Big Texan Steak Ranch in Amarillo, TX, National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City, and the Centennial Land Run Monument, one of the largest bronze monuments (365 feet) in the world. Other stops included Buckeye Lake, OH where they visited Buckeye Lake State Park and Casey, IL, dubbed the ‘small town of big things,’ one of which was the world’s largest wind chimes.
Given how many years they’d been traveling, the couple has witnessed many changes, especially with regards to the role technology plays in itinerary planning.
Researching trips and planning routes is much easier now than it was when the couple first started traveling. When the couple planned their first six-week extended camping trip in 1978, Shirley spent two years going to AAA to get road maps and develop a plan.
The goal of the trip was to visit as many national parks as possible along the route, so she also read about each park in World Book Encyclopedia. Each article contained the address of the park, which Shirley would use to write letters requesting brochures and guides. It would take a few weeks for the brochures to arrive, she said. She would also write to Chambers of Commerce in the major towns and cities they would be near asking for information.
Shirley recalled one trip to a site on the Merced River in Yosemite:
The family traveled in a Plymouth Fury car towing a 1962 canvas Apache tent trailer with “nothing more than two fold-out beds with a floor in between,” she said. “The only other equipment we had were a Coleman heater, stove, lantern, and cooler plus a sink/water container combo. That was it. Six weeks with never a hookup, and we had such great fun. I’m amazed at what I think we need now.”
From that trip on, each trip got a little more “modern.” Booking campsites went from snail-mailing checks for deposits to booking it all online.
“The advent of the internet speeds up the process and gives us more information at our fingertips than we sometimes know what to do with,” said Shirley. “We now use the internet for everything including searching where to eat out. We like to eat ‘with the locals’ and will use reviews to determine if a place will be a good value with good food.”
But their overall routine has remained the same, with Shirley laying out the tentative plans, Archie providing input, and then together finalizing destinations and itineraries. But, added Archie, “we do allow for unplanned stops, detours, and sites to see along the way. That is why we tend to stay longer in one place, which gives us time to be flexible. But even on our one-night stops, if something looked interesting that we hadn’t known about, we do it.”
Sometimes, too, the weather is responsible for unexpected downtimes and detours — one of which occurred when they were going to Natural Bridges National Monument on their anniversary trip.
The route they had planned to take was closed due to the washout of a bridge, resulting in them needing to take a much longer route. Thankfully, the Wilkins had allotted extra time to their trip, making it possible for them to take the extra time to travel to their destination.
“We also build in about one day a week unplanned to have a day off that we used to attend our church via online services, hang around the campsite to rest, read, and catch up on correspondence,” Shirley added.
Planning their next road trip destination
Now that they are back home, Archie and Shirley are in the planning stages for their next road trip.
The couple wanted to take a road trip to Florida to spend time at state park campgrounds in late winter 2022. However, the campgrounds are so popular during that time pf year that reservations were slim pickings. Instead, the Wilkins are planning a week-long monthly biking trip.
“Our goal is to finish the 158-mile-long Great Allegheny Passage trail which we are half done with, and The Virginia Creeper Trail—also half done,” Shirley said.” Besides those there are some new trails on our list, so 2022 will be a year of monthly TAB trips instead of one long one. Some reservations are already made. Besides that, I’ve already been mapping out a Florida trip for the future. Planning is half the fun!”
Highlights of the Wilkins’ 50 Anniversary Road Trip
- “A favorite was our six-mile round trip hike to Delicate Arch to see the sunset. This was difficult as we began at 5PM when it was 95 degrees. But as we sat and watched the changing sunset lighting on the rocks with many other like-minded people, we knew it had been worth the effort. We made the return trip by flashlight.”
- “Another highlight was the early morning hike in Zion where we were able to watch approximately 15 bighorn sheep maneuver their way across the rocks and the mule ride we did at the Grand Canyon on the North Kaibab Trail, 2,000 feet down into the canyon.”
- “We had seen the Shafer Trail videos on YouTube as we did pre-trip research and made it a goal to drive our truck down that cliff-side road that used to be a livestock trail. Completing that in both directions gave us a sense of accomplishment.”
- “We visited the ghost town of Grafton, UT on the day that just so happened to be an informal reunion of some of the descendants of original inhabitants. That was very interesting, and the expected short stop turned into several hours.”