Posts Tagged ‘parks and camping’

In My Humble Opinion

January 3, 2011 Leave a comment

Happy New Year, all. Isn’t is wonderful when a person can begin fresh with an entire year stretching out ahead of the present moment, spotless and waiting to have life written upon it’s days?

 I always enjoy having a reader suggest something more specific about what I write. Today, I received a request for an op-ed piece. Those who’ve been around here very long know that I’ve little need for encouragement to voice an opinion on all sorts of things.

 Because of this request, I’m going to honor it immediately. I’m going to talk about something which has been bothering me for some weeks now. In fact, the subject became a thorn in our sides from the time Sister Jo and I began our little sojourn across the country.

 When we did our research for this trip, we spent many hours on the internet for the latest and greatest fee schedules in effect for campgrounds throughout the country. We were okay with most tent sites going for $10-15 per night, and could even warrant a $20 fee for one that had water/electricity with the site. It seemed fair and appropriate.

 We did choke when looking into those campgrounds along the eastern seaboard. Some of those campgrounds were asking up to $40+ per night to pitch a tent… without such little amenities as available water/electricity. Personally, I felt that was exorbitant even by eastern standards. It didn’t surprise us, necessarily, that a New England state’s facilities would go that high. We’ve encountered that regional misconception of worth before this.

 Our hope was that state parks would prove more reasonable in their grip on the reality of economic wherewithal. Alas, we discovered otherwise in many cases.

 We’d stayed overnight with Jo’s youngest son in Tacoma, WA on our first night out. A heavy t-storm had much to do with that. Unfortunately, heavy rain followed us from Washington through Oregon and into northern California. We managed to sleep in the car that second night of travel. That’s right. It was still raining.

 Before anyone asks, we didn’t stop along the way to investigate local wonder spots. Weather pushed us to move quickly so that we could get out of coastal zones. Schlepping around in the rain is neither fun nor conducive to good research.

 Instead, we moved on the next morning across the Siskiyou Mountain from Redding, CA to Eureka on the coast. That’s a great drive, and we managed to accomplish it during mostly dry conditions. If you ever get the change, take that drive. You’ll have small towns to explore and great scenery to photograph.

 At a state park along the coast near Trinidad we learned the ugly truth about fees. Campsites for tents in that park were going for $35-45 per night… they catered to RVs primarily. We were advised to go to the country park a bit further north where the fees were cheaper.

A nice enough county park greeted us, which would have been far nicer if it were dry. No one greeted us there, and the fee? For a site with nothing but ankle-deep water that wouldn’t hold tent pegs, the fee was $20 off-season.

 That offended us to the max. Hence, we didn’t stay there. This whole season/off-season mentality also irritated us. By that time the rain was causing major crankiness.

Finding lowly rest areas in the state of California along the I-5 corridor was difficult enough. Along the 101 was nigh on to impossible. (If you’re driving there, use restrooms whenever you find them. Rest areas tend to have 120-150 miles between them.)We did finally find one a few miles north of San Diego, so that we could sleep in the car. That would have to do until we could get into Arizona.

 Rain still washed the California coast and threatened to follow us for the rest of our lives. Or, at least, it felt that way. In nearly a week, we’d seen the sun twice and not for an entire day.

 In Arizona, we learned the awful truth regarding about that state and camping. Many campgrounds, especially those that took tents, had closed due to financial reasons. The ones left were, for us, outrageously priced. A small state park with no amenities other than port-o-potties should never charge $35 to pitch a tent on rock and in cactus. That was our opinion on that option.

We had a place recommended to us by a local that took tents.  It skirted the Arizona-New Mexico state line. Roper Lake State Park had decent sites, good showers and restroom facilities, a pool, hot tub, fire pits and grills, and  helpful people. All of that cost only $15 per night.

 We’d found more than good fortune. We’d found something we’d been searching out for over a week.

That was the last decently priced campground we found until we arrived on the southeastern side of Texas. We found Coleto Creek State Park where rangers and sheriffs patrolled the park regularly, a huge lake had plenty of  wildlife everywhere, facilities for everything, and free wi-fi for our use. We got all that and more for $22 per night.

Why could we justify that much? We knew we were secure, there were community activities like pot-luck dinners for the campers, all the facilities (water and electricity and wi-fi), restrooms, showers, laundry, and recreation, including boating and fishing.

We’ll definitely be going back there on later wanderings.

I don’t mind paying for accommodations when I travel. There is an invisible line drawn in the sand, though.

 Tent camping is an American past-time that has been enjoyed by families for scores of years. My Dad took us camping when we were kids with a lot less gear than we carry now. Back then a family didn’t necessarily need a campground to do it, either. There were creek banks everywhere.

 I’ll be the first to admit that having running water and electricity is marvelous when camping. Can I do without them? Sure, but when you’re a writer, it’s best to be able to do that somewhere other than Mickey D’s.

 Could I survive even as a writer without all the amenities? Yes to that question, too. It would be harder but doable.

 What disturbs me is the belief by those with some campground that only RVs qualify as campers. They don’t even consider the fact that others use tents. When did the definition of camper become so skewed?

There are RVers and campers. I know that RVers generally have more liquid assets that they’re willing to part with, but others like the outdoors, too. RVers are great people, but not everyone traveling around the country use a rig. At the same time, those who don’t have an RV shouldn’t be penalized by a lack of affordable sites or campgrounds.

 Today’s demographics have changed from their 1990 counterparts. Many families don’t have the liquid assets that allow for long vacations in motels/resorts/Disneyland, etc. Entrance fees have been placed on everything it seems. Sometimes the only affordable family vacation is camping—tent, sleeping bags, and cooler in tow.

 I recognize the fact that the little citizen with few resources has become an undesirable commodity, but since when can’t they at least enjoy a family outing for a few days with access to the same accommodations as those with many resources?

Have American entrepreneurs become as greedy as Wall Street to the point of gouging citizens for as long as nickels fall from pockets?

Much of the reason Sister Jo and I wanted to do this country tour was to see how the country fared and to do it on a budget. What we’ve found so far is that if you can’t camp and cook your own food, the budget disappears before the traveler can blink.

 For an average family of four, a budget would evaporate as fast as a mud puddle in the Mohave in July. I wouldn’t be surprised if getting into a museum of quality would eliminate a day’s spending on entertainment and dip into the food allotment. The family can forget staying in motels of quality and doing anything else without a major budget working for them.

 That’s what makes me sad about the camping situation right now. We can find places to tent camp. Granted, affordable ones are farther apart than they were ten years ago. It’s the attitude of privilege that offends me as much as anything else. If you’re in an RV, you’re privileged to go most anywhere.

 When we’re in Montana around Glacier Park or in Yellowstone, tent camping is recognized as legitimate and expected. Such campers are everywhere and have a great experience within the parks. They hike, explore, enjoy.

I can’t help wondering why it can’t be like that elsewhere in the country. Why does a tent camper find acceptance in the big national parks, sharing the same accommodations and facilities as all other visitors and not in other parks?

 Are these small discrepancies a peek at the future of things to come? Will the next years find other changes that hem in Americans of more modest means? Will there come a time when having family time away from home become so expensive that the majority of families won’t be able to afford such luxuries?

 What have you seen in your travels that surprised you and caused you to ask questions of your society? Let me know. If you disagree with my findings, let me know. I’ll debate. No problem. Each of us experience different threads of life. That’s part of what makes discourse so much fun and so valuable.

 Leave a comment before you go and let me know how you feel about things.

 Until then, a bientot,