Roadtrip Archives

In the summer of 2003, Charlotte and I decided to take a trip across the country by rental car (why a rental? Don't ask--it's complicated, dull, and annoying.), stopping at various friends along the way, seeing the sights, and culminating in our annual visit to the Burningman festival in Nevada. This is the diary we kept along the way.

email: roadtrip at sebbo dot org
phone: 781/308-4152

Rough Itinerary
14-20 Jamestown NY
20-21 Cleveland OH
21-24 Louisville KY
24-25 Memphis TN
25-26 Hot Springs AR
? Oklahoma City OK
? Albuquerque NM
30 Taos NM
31 Mesa Verde CO
? Grand Canyon AZ
6-8 Tucson
8-10 Phoenix AZ
10-11 Indio CA
11-13 Los Angeles CA
13-16 Yosemite CA
16-24 San Francisco CA
24 Tahoe CA
Reno NV
24-Sept 1 Black Rock City NV
2 Salt Lake City UT
3-11 ?????
12 Louisville KY

Fri, Aug 15, 2003

Sebastian writes:

Rocky Mountain Relative Value High, or, the subtle economics of campsite


My first real inkling of RV culture didn't come until a couple years ago, when Lotte & I spent a few days camped on Assateague Island.
Public park campgrounds tend to have similar layouts -- a loop or series of loops, with a series of paved crenelations on either side in which to park your vehicle, each marking a campsite, with a picnic table, a little fire pit, and perhaps a water faucet and power outlet. Each loop will have a bathroom or two somewhere along it.

Privacy can be limited, as the designers try to pack as many sites as they can into these loops (there are some good reasons for this -- too big a loop means long walks to the bathroom, for example). From where I'm writing this, at Dorst site 120 in Sequoia Nat'l Park, I can see six other tents at five other campsites. As you can imagine, in less wooded areas, this issue can be much worse.

I'm digressing a little here. The thing, I was saying, that surprised us at Assateague (apart from the total uselessness of conventional tent stakes in extremely sandy soil...) was our first glimpse of RV culture. Virtually all of the campsite driveways had enormous RVs in them, and it didn't take us long to figure out that those things were there for the long haul. The lawn ornaments were one clue; the satellite dishes were another.

As you enter many public campgrounds, you'll see a sign announcing a one- or two-month limit on stays. That sign is directed at those folks -- retirees and semi-retirees who spend their summers in RVs in public campgrounds. Over rhe years, communities arise among the regulars at a particular campground, it becomes a veritable little town.

Now, goodness knows there's nothing particularly wrong with this lifestyle, but I'd personally rather not be camped between two RVs with their generators roaring & monoxiding through the night, and I'd rather not pay a premium for electricity, water, and dumping facilities I'm not gonna use.

Several times on this trip, we've stayed at rather nice state campgrounds on the shores of artificial lakes. They were always pretty empty, even on weekends, and I was wondering why that was for a long time. Eventually, I remembered that in Cadillac Desert, it is explained (sorry about the passive voice -- I can't remember the author's name) that the BLM will wildly overestimate the "recreational value" of a planned dam to help sell the project to the money people.

So, anyway, Mesa Verde's an extremely popular park. We decided to not try to camp inside, but instead overshoot to the state campgrounds in the San Juan mountains.

In the afternoon, we pulled into the McPhee state campground. The ranger on duty told us that sites were $12, and, as an afterthought, added thar walk-in site were $10. How far out were the walk-ins, we wanted to know. Not far, he said. Half a mile? Not that far.

The site was the usual tight-packed RVs, kids on bikes, retirees taking pictures of the sunset. We parked in the empty walk-in lot, and, um, walked in. About ten yards down the walk-in trail, we hit site #1. Not quite that much further was #2. From one corner, it offered a glimpse of McPhee Reservoir and the mountains beyond. I was still admiring the view when Lotte called from further on, "I've found our campsite!" I came over and looked. Two broad flat areas, separated by a natural stone terrace, looked right out onto the lake on one side, and the distant mesas of the desert below on the other. Moving things from the sublime to the ridiculously sublime, a rainbow arced over the mountains to point emphatically to the picnic table in front of us. For this, yeah, we were willing to pay two dollars less.

[/diaries/roadtrip/sebbo] ###

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