An Overnight at Cracker Barrel and 5,863 Miles Logged


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An Overnight at Cracker Barrel and 5,863 Miles Logged

It’s hard to believe that our road trip is now over and we’re back in Ohio. It’s crazier to think that our first night of the last leg of our trip involved sleeping in a Cracker Barrel parking lot!

We’ve been across a large part of this country on this journey and have had a ton of fun in the process. It’s been a good way to end the summer and have some fun while waiting and hoping we can get back to Panama in October.

Leg 1 of our road trip took us from Ohio to Tennessee and down to Texas. Leg 2 took us to Arizona and Las Vegas! Leg 3 was the final leg of our trip and we checked out the Grand Canyon before heading east. We stopped off in Colorado, Kansas City, and Indianapolis before heading back to Ohio.

I thought that with today’s wrap-up of our road trip, I’d not only fill you in on what we did but also give you some interesting stats about our entire road trip. And of course, I’ll fill you in on this whole Cracker Barrel fun as well!

Waking up freezing in a Cracker Barrel parking lot!

Ok, let’s get this Cracker Barrel fun out of the way. When we started on this trip, part of the plan was to spend some of our nights sleeping in Walmart parking lots periodically. For the nights where we just needed a quick stop, that would be a great opportunity to save a few bucks along the way.

It would give us a well-lit place to sleep with access to restrooms throughout the night. We could also grab food and other supplies if needed. Sounds great, right?

What we found out though is that Walmart stores across the country changed their hours because of the pandemic. So instead of the supercenters being open 24 hours a day, most closed by 10 pm. On top of that, many Walmart stores no longer allow overnight parking – this is now at the discretion of each store manager.

Ugh. Lucky for us, Walmart isn’t the only game in town. Some other places are happy to accommodate overnight guests. One of those places is Cracker Barrel.

We had gotten a late start leaving Las Vegas since we stopped off to say goodbye to my uncle. So we decided that we’d drive until we got in the vicinity of the Grand Canyon, find a place to stay for the night, and then head to the Canyon the next morning.

As we got closer, we started looking at a couple of campgrounds and weren’t impressed. Since we just needed a place for the night, that’s when we decided to give good ol’ Cracker Barrel a shot. We found one in the Flagstaff, Arizona area that put us just about an hour and a half from the Grand Canyon… sold!

A Night at a Cracker Barrel to Start Leg 3 of the Road Trip - Cracker Barrel

This was going to be a little new for us. Although we had slept in the car once in Hot Springs, Arkansas and then again in El Paso, Texas, those were at campgrounds. The Cracker Barrel is a restaurant open-for-business and we were going to sleep in their parking lot… that’s a little weird. Eh, who cares?!

So we arrived at the Flagstaff Cracker Barrel around 4:30 pm. I was glad to see the back parking lot was filled with RVs – comfort in numbers.

I went in just to verify that we could stay overnight and was told it wasn’t a problem. So we set up shop in a parking space along the side of the building. That was a little bit of a mistake.

When we would do this at a campground, we could just unload all our stuff everywhere, move everything to the front seats, and blow up the air mattress without a care in the world. I felt a little odd though doing that right in view of everyone in the restaurant (who loved staring while they ate, by the way).

So instead, I tried to do this a little more discreetly. I moved our suitcases to the front seats and then got in the back of the car and closed the hatch. From there, it became one of those puzzles where one piece is missing and you slide the other pieces around to get things to where you want them. It was a pain, but we got ‘er done!

Then I inflated the air mattress using our power inverter while in the car with all the doors closed as well to stifle the noise. This wasn’t easy by any means either but I got it done. In the meantime, Lisa and Faith had ordered us some food for carry-out. If you’re going to stay at a Cracker Barrel, the least you could do is order some Cracker Barrel.

When all was said and done, the mission was a success. We hung the curtains we had made before our trip, which gave us a little privacy. We ate dinner, snuck in a beer, and then played some cards in the back of the car. We watched a Louie Anderson stand-up show on Amazon that was some funny stuff and then called it a night.

Easy enough, right?

We keep the car off while sleeping in it because, well, we don’t like carbon monoxide poisoning. Yeah, well, we must have read the overnight low wrong when we checked it on the way there… it dropped to a crisp 37 degrees Fahrenheit overnight!

Brrrrrr!

Holy crap! Thank God we had some really heavy blankets in the car or we would have really been up a creek. We scurried to grab the blankets and bundled up but it was still really cold.

Let’s just say that it wasn’t the most comfortable night. We didn’t get as many hours of sleep as we had hoped because of how cold it was, but it still went Ok. Minus the freezing weather, I’m still going to call the night at the Cracker Barrel a success.

The obligatory Grand Canyon visit

After packing up everything at the Cracker Barrel in the morning, we headed to the Grand Canyon. We had a fun little surprise when we got there and started packing up some snacks for hiking…

A Night at a Cracker Barrel to Start Leg 3 of the Road Trip - Grand Canyon - Peanut Butter
Looks like the peanut butter jar spent a little too much time on its side in the heat before the cold weather hit!

If you haven’t been to the Grand Canyon before, it’s truly worth a visit. None of us had ever seen it, so that’s why it was a stop on our trip. I just figured that it was a big hole in the ground – you look at it, take it in for a minute, and then that’s it – take off and get out of there.

Not so much. It’s breath-taking to see. And we got extremely lucky with our weather while there. The temperature was only in the mid-70s when we got there and then barely got into the 80s by the time we were leaving. Getting to enjoy the views without melting, made it even better than it could have been otherwise.

A Night at a Cracker Barrel to Start Leg 3 of the Road Trip - Grand Canyon Weather

We hiked down a little bit on the Bright Angel Trail, which, according to their free NPS Grand Canyon app, is the most popular trail there. Lucky for us, it wasn’t very crowded at all, but there were just lines of people flowing in when we were heading out of there… guess we got there at the right time!

We drove to a couple of other vantage points and overlooks to check it out and take some photos. It really is an incredible spectacle to behold.

Heading east slowly but surely!

Unlike, the first legs of our road trip, we didn’t have much of an agenda on the way back toward Ohio. So we decided that we’d spend a couple of nights in Kansas City to give us something to look forward to… a little exploring and some BBQ!

Kayenta, Arizona – a close call on dinner

After we left the Grand Canyon, we just started driving. Because we had slept in the Cracker Barrel parking lot the night before, we decided to stay at a hotel so we could get some showers in. We finally ended up stopping at a Hampton Inn in the middle of nowhere in Kayenta, Arizona. We were going to check in first and then stop somewhere to get some dinner since it was late and we hadn’t eaten yet.

So here’s something funny – I walked in to see if I could get a better rate than what the Hilton app had to offer. There was one guy ahead of me in line checking in. The young lady at the front desk was doing her thing and then she asked him if he had already eaten dinner. He said he had and then she told him, “Ok, good, because the whole city is shutting down for quarantine starting at 9 pm and restaurants, gas stations, etc. won’t be re-opening until 5 am on Monday.”

Wait, what?! I checked my phone – it was 8:47 pm on Friday. I ditched my spot in line and ran out to the car to Lisa and Faith. “Everything’s shutting down in 15 minutes. Pick a fast food place around here and just get some food ASAP.”

Long story short, we got our dinner (Taco Bell, per Faith’s request), checked in, and life was good. But boy, that was pretty close. I’m sure we could have figured out something to eat with some of the stuff we had in the car, but it was already almost 9 pm and we just wanted to call it a day.

Sure enough, when we checked out the next morning. It was like a ghost town driving through that city. Apparently, it’s part of the Navajo Nation so they have some flexibility to set some of their own rules/laws outside of what the rest of the state does. It reminded me of how Panama looked this past spring when they locked everything down.

The most important part of this stop though turned out to be a coin-operated washer and dryer. Between the cost to use them and buying a small detergent package from the front desk, we were able to get a quick load of laundry done for about $4.

A night in Alamosa, Colorado

Not much to say here – we just stopped at another hotel in Colorado after a long day of driving. This one was another Hampton Inn – happy to have a bed again!

A beautiful night in Ellis, Kansas – much better than a Cracker Barrel!

We were starting to get a little spoiled with staying in hotels for a couple of nights. It was time to get back to enjoying nature a little more.

One option was to do some more tent camping, but the lows are starting to get pretty low now – probably a little chilly for sleeping in the tent. So we decided to do another night of sleeping in the car.

After doing some digging, we found that Ellis, Kansas had a campground that seemed to fit the bill called Ellis Lakeside Campground. It was cheap ($15 for tents, $20 for RVs), had bathrooms with showers, free Wi-Fi, and great reviews… done deal!

We got there just a little before sunset and did our thing. I think we’re starting to get this down to a science – I moved everything to the front seats and inflated the air mattress, while Lisa cooked up more Mountain House meals – a quick and delicious meal!

This place was great. We were right on a pond and the area was pretty and clean. The only downside was that there were some mosquitoes mostly likely because of the nearby water, but no complaints otherwise.

That was a nice night sleeping in the car… and it wasn’t freezing like the night at the Cracker Barrel. I believe it got down to the low 50’s that night so not too bad (we prepared with the blankets accordingly).

I think that this a campground the city runs – no attendees there – you just self-pay on the honor system. Everything seemed so polite and honest there, including this sign in the men’s room…

A Night at a Cracker Barrel to Start Leg 3 of the Road Trip - Men's Room Sign
This is how you say “don’t pee on the floor” without being mean…

Kansas City, here we come!

Kansas City was fun. We stayed at a Home2 Suites hotel for two nights there. We strategically picked that hotel since it was near the heart of what we wanted to do.

A Night at a Cracker Barrel to Start Leg 3 of the Road Trip - There's No Place Like Home! Wizard of Oz
There’s no place like home!

The Museum of Illusions

Ok, technically this is in Kansas City, Missouri but it was just a quick 10-minute drive from our hotel. Faith has a book on illusions and is fascinated by them. So when Lisa found the Museum of Illusions, it seemed like a logical place to visit. As a bonus, she also found a Groupon for $1 off each ticket bringing it down to $14 per adult and $10 for Faith.

A Night at a Cracker Barrel to Start Leg 3 of the Road Trip - Faith and a Dinosaur
The atrium of Union Station where the Museum of Illusions is has some cool stuff, too. You can’t tell by the picture, but this was an animatronic dinosaur.

The museum itself isn’t huge but you spend so much time looking at each illusion that it still took us probably an hour to get through. It was a fun way to spend the afternoon. The illusions were fantastic – some we had seen before but most we hadn’t. We laughed a lot and were puzzled by a lot of ’em. It’s worth a visit if you’re ever in the area!

The only downside is that the directions took us to some office building next door. So we parked there and it ended up costing us $12 by the time we left. I’m not sure if it would have been cheaper or free parking at the actual Union Station where the museum was located, but $12 seems pretty steep to me.

Joe’s Kansas City Bar-B-Que

You can’t go to Kansas City without getting some barbecue, right? We looked up a bunch of places online to see the reviews and talked to a few people, but Joe’s Kansas City Bar-B-Que seemed to float to the top (along with several other places).

A Night at a Cracker Barrel to Start Leg 3 of the Road Trip

It was a cool little place that’s also a gas station. In fact, we filled up while there!

We just got the food to go since, you know, COVID sucks. But the food was great. I had the Z-Man which was a brisket sandwich, with smoked provolone, pickles, and onion rings. Really good! My buddy Mr. Tako called me out on Twitter for not taking pictures of the food, but if you saw the train-wreck we had set up for a table and what a mess we had with everything scattered, pics weren’t going to happen! 😉

Homeward bound!

That’s the exciting stuff, my friends. After Kansas City, we drove to Indianapolis, Indiana and stayed for the night at an Embassy Suites. Then the next morning, we made the rest of the journey back to Akron, Ohio.

It’s a bittersweet end of the trip. We had a lot of fun – more than anticipated, but it’s great to be back. Plus, we need to start preparing to hopefully head back to Panama in mid-October.

I’m glad we had the idea and decided to take this road trip. It was a great way to spend part of the summer and gave us a chance to visit parts of the country we’d never been to before.

Some random facts, numbers, and thoughts

I thought it would be fun to end this post with a wrap-up of our trip. Here’s a map of our road trip (minus all the sightseeing side trips!)

A Night at a Cracker Barrel to Start Leg 3 of the Road Trip - Our 2020 Road Trip

And here are some interesting tidbits to go with it…

MeasurementAnswerNotes
Total number of days gone4039 nights
Approximate number of hours driven79 hoursThis doesn't count sightseeing
Approximate distance traveled just for the mapped trip5,107 milesThis doesn't count sightseeing
Total distance actually traveled5,863 milesPer the odometer before and after the trip
Nights slept in the car4
Nights slept in the car in a parking lot1Cracker Barrel!!
Nights slept in a hotel9Plus 3 nights at Horseshoe Bay and 3 weeks at my brother's house
Free hotel nights4And Vegas was only $258 total for 4 nights
Lowest gas price$1.61
Highest gas price~$2.89Lisa and I aren't positive on this one but those prices out west need to go!
Total spent on gas for the entire trip$547.42Hoofa!
Number of days I worked out16Not too shabby!
Approximate number of hours I drove8Fail. I used to be our main driver, but now I don't care if I ever drive again and Lisa doesn't mind driving.
Total spent on this road trip???I refuse to add this up or I'll throw up thinking about it!

I’ll be talking more about this in an upcoming post, but we paid for almost every hotel night on this leg of the trip with points. It’s a mistake to not realize the value of travel rewards. You can check out some of the credit cards we like on my recommended cards page. If you pay your bill off every month, travel rewards cards can pay off handsomely.

Also, sprinkling in hotels periodically allowed us to have some normal bathrooms and showers. And we took advantage of each visit to ensure our coolers were re-stocked with ice. Buying bags at the stores and gas stations can add up quickly!

Finally, I thought this was a weird bit of fun. I don’t remember seeing any other country’s flag anywhere during our whole road trip. We obviously saw U.S. flags everywhere. However, when we pulled up to a rest stop near Topeka, Kansas, the car next to us had a Panamanian flag hanging from his rearview mirror. What are the chances?!

That’s all, folks – time to spend some time in Ohio with friends and family and plan our trip back to Panama!

What do you think? Are road trips a great way to spend some time over the summer?

Thanks for reading!!

— Jim

14 thoughts on “An Overnight at Cracker Barrel and 5,863 Miles Logged”

  1. I definitely think road trips are a fun way to vacation. The summer for me is a little iffy since I live in Houston and am in the heat too much as it is. We have only taken one road trip and loved it. We are actually going on a road trip to see fall foliage in October to Tennessee, Virginia and North Carolina for 3 weeks. Just retired a couple years ago and since no oversees trips in the near future road trippin’ it is. I love your blog and enjoy all your articles. Faith is just adorable and the memories you are making with her are priceless.

  2. Great trip – as any trip that includes the Grand Canyon is worth the effort. We’ve eaten at that Cracker Barrel in Flagstaff and Kayenta looks like a ghost town even when open – so you did not miss much.

    We usually boondock in our van when travelling – usually at a Harvest Host site. Not sure we actually save much money, since we are glad to buy wine or spirits at the places we stay. But it does add to the adventure.

    1. Haha, that’s funny on Kayenta – yeah, that was just a quick overnight stop so we weren’t expecting much. But I’m glad we were able to get dinner in before they shut down!

      I had to lookup Harvest Hosts – that looks really cool. Even if you’re not saving a lot, it sounds like a great way to add to the fun!

  3. Do you have any Hilton points left? All native American lands and jurisdictions are sovereign nations, so your US constitutional rights don’t mean much within their boundaries. You likely had Navajo Nation’s flag in your path (plus others), but your brain didn’t register it. Gas prices are largely determined by each state’s tax. Fun fact: Vatican City is also a sovereign nation.

    1. We still have a little over 40k points left – enough for one or two more free nights. That’s interesting about Navajo Nation – I didn’t know that’s where we were until I looked it up a couple of days later. Hmm, I didn’t know that about Vatican City but that doesn’t surprise me much.
      Thanks for all the great info, Mary!

  4. Glad you enjoyed the Z-Man at KC Joe’s. If you only eat one meal in KC, I can’t think of a better choice. Thanks for sharing your trip with us.

  5. Looks like a fun road trip, but brrr…. car camping in 30 degree weather must have been cold. You guys needed proper cold weather sleeping bags at those temps!

    Glad you made it back to Ohio alright! Seems like the Honda Pilot worked out well for you!

  6. Sounds like you guys had a great adventure. Sometimes it’s the not so fun parts of a trip (sleeping in a parking lot lol) that end up being the best parts when it’s all said and done.

    Curious, now that your trip is over, to see your take on how much this pandemic affected your trip. Were there a lot of places closed down that you would have liked to have seen or done?

    -HD

    1. Very true about the not-so-fun parts – those make for the best stories about the trip!

      Yes, a lot of places were closed down because of the pandemic. It made it a little nicer that things were very crowded but it made it tougher since there weren’t a ton of places we could go to. We were excited about Nashville and Clarksville earlier in the trip but nothing was open. Vegas had a lot of stuff that was closed and most of the national parks were closed, too.

      On a positive note, at places that were open, mask policies seemed to be in place and most everyone adhered to it.

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