I agree! And you can substitute "running trails" for "driving my
RV" and "RV travel" -- it also applies nicely.
First, some semantics: "RV" is the acronym for
"recreational vehicle." There are photos and a decent
description of the various types of RVs at this
site. Some people believe RVs are just the types of
campers with engines, but I use the broader definition that
includes truck campers, pop-up campers, travel trailers,
and fifth-wheels (those all require a vehicle to tow them), as
well as the self-contained motor homes (Class A, B, and C) --
and all sorts of hybrids. You can also call all of these types
of vehicles "campers."
To further confuse everyone, each type comes in a variety of
lengths and styles. And although all of the larger RVs that you
can live in for months or years at a time are mobile,
they are not "mobile homes!" Nope. Those are actually stationary
residences that were only mobile when transported to their
Just one more example of how confusing the English language can
LIVING THE DREAM
I read a very relevant editorial today about the RV "lifestyle"
that prompted me to finally write this entry. The comments below
were written by guest editor Jim Twamley in the weekly
e-newsletter we receive from
Here is part of his editorial:
Is RVing Just Another Hobby?
Most RVers I meet are enthusiastic about RVing. We come from
all walks of life and have one thing in common . . . we love
RVing. Some outsiders would classify us as "RV hobbyists" but
what they don't know is RVing is a lifestyle and spills over the
boundaries of hobby-land. In 1940 Ernie Pyle wrote, "A hobby has
a way of running out. You play it for a long time, and then its
power to beguile you begins to fade, and finally you have to
pretend to play, so as not to be ashamed of the thing to which
you once threw your passions."
Veteran RVers don't look at their RV and say, "That's my
hobby." Rather, they see their RVs as a magic carpet taking them
to new destinations, a mother ship providing them opportunities
to visit and explore diverse landscapes, a time machine opening
a window on the vistas of history. You can't do that staying in
the neighborhood, where life demands a more predictable routine.
In the RV lifestyle every day is an opportunity to visit a
place previously unknown, a chance to witness things yet unseen,
to embrace the adventure around the next corner. Along the way
you make new friends and create an encyclopedia of memories . .
Antarctica? North Pole? Nope -- it's the
White Sands National Monument in New Mexico!
That pretty much sums up the appeal of this mobile lifestyle to
Jim and me. We use our camper to make mostly extended trips for
weeks or months at a time across this vast country to run and
work races, enjoy remote trails, observe fabulous scenery, visit
friends and relatives, and explore new places in a manner that
is enjoyable to us.
We couldn't do this, especially with two Labrador retrievers, by
car or plane. Nor would we want to, even if we had no dogs. We
prefer to stay in quiet, natural surroundings like mountains,
woods, or deserts, close to trails, creeks, lakes, wetlands, or
beaches. We like the convenience and privacy of our own
self-contained "condo" that is mobile and can move on to the
next place we decide to wander. To us, that's preferable to the
busier, noisier, more crowded motel or resort vacation preferred
by many people -- or even going to expensive "private" campgrounds
where we have no privacy. Quiet, spacious national forests, BLM
land, and local and state parks are our favorite camping venues,
and we've also found some very nice military campgrounds.
Buying, maintaining, and driving an RV around the country isn't
necessarily the most cost-effective way to travel. That's one
reason it's considered a "lifestyle." Heck, some fancy RVs cost
more than our whole house and twelve acres of land! (I can
assure that our fifth-wheeler did NOT.)
There is a wide range of choices and prices, but to get an RV
large enough to live in comfortably for several weeks or months
at a time (i.e., with an adequate kitchen, bathroom, bedroom,
storage space, etc.), you'll have to pay more than you would for
the least expensive options like a pick-up truck camper top or
little pop-up trailer. Those are fine for short trips but too
claustrophobic and minimalist for an extended period of time
(for most people, at least). So you're talking about spending at
least $20,.000 and up to get what you need for a lengthy time on
the road, and probably significantly more $$$ than that. It
helps considerably to pay cash to avoid interest and/or purchase
a previously-owned camper that's already taken its
first-year depreciation hit -- same drill as with any new
In addition, you have to consider the cost of fuel, insurance,
licensing, maintenance, campground fees, and other possible
expenses like the lovely "personal property tax" hit on big toys
that we have to pay in Virginia every year.
Example of a Class C recreational vehicle
at the Ft. Sam Houston campground in San Antonio
Most people with a medium to large RV don't chose this means of
transport and accommodation to save money. They do it for
On some shorter trips to races we've driven our Honda Odyssey
minivan and slept overnight either inside the vehicle or in a motel room
rather than dragging the camper along for only a night or two.
It's easier and sometimes cheaper. But for our extended trips of
two to five months, taking the truck and camper is by FAR
preferable to us than driving our van and staying in
hotels/motels/etc. or buying plane tickets, renting a car, and
staying in a motel or some such accommodation -- even if the
dogs weren't a factor in the equation, and even considering the
costs associated with owning and using a camper.
Bottom line: for us, it doesn't matter on a long trip if
taking the camper is more or less expensive than another mode of
travel. We simply prefer the RV lifestyle. It's OUR style.
Jim and I have vacationed with campers off and on throughout our
adult years, even before we became a couple back in 1999. This
is our sixth year traveling all over the country in our current
RV, a 32-foot HitchHiker II fifth-wheel camper, shown in the
next photo with our tow vehicle, a 2001 Ford F-250 diesel truck.
Our scenic campsite in January at McDowell
Mountain Regional Park near Phoenix, AZ
Some fifth-wheel campers are longer than this (up to 38 feet or
more). Some are shorter. Ours is a "medium." It's the prefect
size inside for us, although we are occasionally limited in
where we can park it. For example, it was too big to park at
most of the trail heads along the Appalachian Trail when I
ran it in 2005. Some state and national park campsites
aren't wide enough for slide-outs or long enough for the truck
and camper combo, but most parks have a few sites for bigger
It's easiest to get into a pull-through site like the one above,
but Jim does a GREAT job when he has to back it into a campsite
or our long driveway. I can drive it forward and into and out of
places like gas stations just fine, but I don't even attempt to
back the doggone thing! (I really should learn to do that,
A friend of ours recently sold his fairly new 38-foot
fifth-wheel because it was too difficult for him to maneuver in
the campgrounds of his favorite venues, Virginia's state parks
-- if he could even find a long enough space in which to
park. He traded for another camper that's about the size of
ours, and is enjoying it so much more. The bigger the camper,
the fewer options you have of places to camp.
Our HitchHiker has three handy slide-out units ("slides"), which
significantly expand the livable space inside when they are
open. You can see two of them in the photo above. The third one
is on the door side. Jim's had to repair the mechanisms on two
of them so far. The most recent time was en route to San Antonio
from Carlsbad Caverns a few
weeks ago. As with any vehicle,
there's always something to fix after you've had it a while.
Jim has done a magnificent job of maintaining our camper through
the years and of retrofitting it for boon-docking soon after we
got it (solar power, generator, etc.). It needs some minor
repairs before we take it out again. The main
problems are the disappointing quality of materials and
construction (despite the research we did on RV manufacturers
before we purchased it) and the work it takes to hitch and
unhitch every time we move it. That's a big advantage of the
Sometimes we think it'd be nice to have a medium-sized Class C
and pull a fuel-efficient "toad" (tow vehicle) behind it to make
our life easier . . .
So there we were in Sunbird Central -- southern Arizona in the
winter -- and we discovered there were several large and small
RV shows scheduled around the state that time of year to tempt
said sunbirds into buying spiffy new rigs. Hmmm . . . it
wouldn't hurt to LOOK, would it??
We considered driving several hours west of Phoenix to
Quartzite, AZ, which is REALLY the Sunbird Capital of Arizona,
for a humongous RV show in January. We eventually decided we
didn't want to lose our fabulous campsite at McDowell Park or
incur the cost of diesel to get to Quartzite and back. So we
took just the truck to visit a much smaller RV show on the other
side of Phoenix, quite a drive itself "just across town."
It was our first serious inquiry into the differences between
Class A and Class C motor homes. Class As are the ones that look
like buses. The front of Class Cs resemble pick-up trucks and
usually have part of the camper extending over the cab, like the
one in the photo above from the campground at Ft. Sam. They can
be nearly as long as Class As, but most are shorter. We quickly
decided a Class C, with either a gas or diesel engine, would be
more practical for the boon-docking sites we like to frequent
because they are higher off the ground and easier to maneuver on
the dirt roads leading to national forest and BLM land -- or
anywhere else, for that matter. They would also feel more like
driving our pick-up truck than a big 'ole bus.
The prices of all of them, however, made our jaws drop!
A couple days after the RV show a very classy 34-foot Class C
Dynamax drove by our camper at McDowell Park to a site farther
up the hill from us (see next photo). I was outside an just
stared at it -- how beautiful! It looked better than anything we
saw at the RV show and our curiosity was piqued. Notice how it
almost looks like a semi in front:
Class C Dynamax RV, which has a second
slide-out most of the length of the other side
Later I was walking Tater around the campground and the owners
made the "mistake" of waving to me when I went by their
campsite. Ah, an opening! We had questions. Lots of them. Jim
was out running with Cody, so I spent the next half hour talking
with the retired couple and getting a tour of the inside, which
I didn't expect. (Most RVers are still very friendly and
trusting like that.) I returned with lots of information for Jim
-- and a big case of RV envy!
When we had free Verizon minutes to get online that evening Jim
went to the manufacturer's web site, saw the beginning list
prices, and quickly dismissed any ideas of us getting a similar
motor home in this lifetime!! Yikes. We'd have to sell
our house or raid our long-term savings and retirement accounts
to buy one of those! They're as pricey as upscale Monaco Class A
coaches. You can buy a nice house in most states for what these
things cost. (Jayco and probably other companies now make
similar products that cost less than the Dynamax brand,
fortunately, but their quality appears to be lower.)
You get the idea.
Some people go to new car dealerships to drool and are never
satisfied with what they already own. Others come away with a
new appreciation for what they already have, especially if it's
paid for, and give up any thoughts of a new vehicle (at least
for the time being).
We are in the second camp! Even though we could probably buy a
suitable Class C for half the cost of the one we loved in the
campground, it's still more money than we want to spend on an RV
unless we were planning to live in it full time. We have more
storage space and room to move around in our (already paid for)
32-foot fifth-wheel than the Dynamax folks in their expensive
34-foot Class C (the length of a Class C includes the cab and
engine compartment, not just the living space). I noticed the
difference in space when touring the Dynamax, and it surprised
me to realize that our camper has much more room inside.
We've decided to do some extra work on our camper this spring so
we can continue to enjoy it for several more years. But we can
still dream, can't we?
Tater explores the beach near our campsite
at Galveston Island State Park in Texas
A funny related incident occurred at the Galveston Island State
Park campground a few weeks later. A fine-looking Dynamax or
look-alike drove by on its way to a nearby site. Deja vu all
over again! The younger man and woman in the camper next to
us (the couple with the cats on the leashes) were working outside their
camper within my range of hearing.
He: Wow! One of those would be nice to have!
She: Yes, but ours is paid for.
Me, cracking up: Jim and I recently had that very same
RV envy is as universal as new-car envy.
COMPARISON OF CAMPING OPTIONS WE USED THIS
Since I already included quite a bit about most of the camping venues we
used in the daily trip entries while we were in Arizona, New
Mexico, and Texas on our recent trip, I'll focus more here on what we liked and didn't like about
each of them. I'll include some web links and other
information for folks who may use these campgrounds for races or when visiting the same areas.
I'll start with our least favorites and end with the ones we
WAL-MART & SAM'S CLUB PARKING LOTS
These aren't "campsites" but convenient overnight stops to rest.
People who "set up camp" in the parking lots only jeopardize the
privilege for others, so it's important to avoid looking like
you're staying more than overnight (i.e., don't unhitch tow or
pulling vehicles, don't leave the camper unattended for hours,
don't set up a grill and several lawn chairs, etc.).
Busy Wal-Mart lot in Virginia on a summer
night in 2005 during our AT journey run
The obvious advantages are the Big Boxes' locations near
freeways and other major arteries, the fact that they are free,
and the convenience of picking up groceries and other supplies.
The downsides are the noise, bright lights all night, and
questionable security in some locations. We always ask someone
in the customer service department, preferably the manager on
duty, for permission to stay overnight and whether the spot we
chose is suitable (e.g., gotta stay out of the way of the trucks
that deliver new merchandise during the night). We thank them
verbally and by making a purchase in the store. Some locales have ordinances
against overnight RV parking at stores like this. I've already
done that rant previously.
We use these parking lots only in transit, never as a
destination, and we're very grateful for the money they save us.
FLYING "J" PARKING AREAS FOR RVs
These can be one step up from Wal-Mart and Sam's Club if they
have a separate overnight lot for RVs away from the noisy semis
that come and go at all hours and/or keep their engines running.
Flying J, Travel America, and other large truck stops can often
be found away from city traffic and noise, although still
conveniently located near a freeway interchange. They are free,
and fuel, dump stations, propane, bathrooms, and meals are
right there, if needed. We have a free Flying J discount card for
fuel so that's the truck stop we use most frequently on our
PRIVATE CAMPGROUND - CARLSBAD, NM
We aren't fans of most privately-owoned campgrounds, although sometimes
they are the only option available. We've been to some wonderful
ones, like the place we've stayed up to a month in the Bighorn
Mountains (Foothills CG in Dayton, WY). They can be
cost-effective when we are there long enough to use their lower
weekly or monthly rates. We also try to save money by staying at
Good Sam Club campgrounds, which offer a 10% discount to club
members and must meet certain standards. The private campground
we used in Carlsbad (Windmill RV Park) is in the Good Sam
network and cost over $31 with the discount. That was fairly
inexpensive for the area; most places were higher. We
stayed only one night.
The main problems we have with private campgrounds are the
higher comparative cost
and the often-crowded conditions. It's wonderful to have full
hook-ups sometimes (water, electricity, sewer) and other
amenities like laundry rooms and WiFi, but we're often paying
for amenities that we don't use, like
playgrounds and swimming pools. Private
campgrounds usually try to maximize their income by
putting as many campers into their available acreage as possible.
That often means the camper next to us is about ten feet away --
and sometimes less! We like a lot more room for privacy and the dogs
WHITE SANDS MISSILE RANGE (FOR MILITARY
I'll expound on this one a bit more, since I didn't say much
about it earlier.
One of the benefits of being in the Army, Navy, Air Force,
Marines, or Coast Guard is the wide network of "Fam Camps,"
campgrounds that are designed for active and retired members of
the military and their families. Relatives can visit their loved
ones on base, e.g., and retired military folks can spend all
year traveling from one post or base to another around the
country and world, if they want. There are hundreds of these
campgrounds in all sorts of settings (cities, remote areas,
mountains, desert, seashore, etc.) and with a variety of
amenities. They are all reasonably priced and reportedly most have very nice
camper sites. We've now been to at least five of them and we're
We enjoyed our one night at the
campground. There are only seven campsites. They probably
fill up in the spring and fall when the weather is nice (it's very
hot here in the high desert in the summer). We made reservations
for our night in late January, but we wouldn't have needed to do
that because there was only one
other camper besides us.
The Organ Range at dusk forms a scenic backdrop at White Sands Missile Range
We can recommend WSMR for other
military families/retirees. It's convenient to Las Cruces, the
range museum and missile park, and White Sands National
You can't beat the views looking
west toward the nearby Organ Mountains, especially at sunset.
The jagged peaks separate Las Cruces from the missile range. I
took the photo above from our campsite.
WSMR is much cheaper (only $10 with water and
electricity) than any of the private campgrounds in the area,
and even most military campgrounds. We liked the convenient one-mile crushed stone running trail with
exercise stations next to the
And it's quiet. Well, except for
the music piped throughout the installation at 6 AM (reveille /
flags up at sunrise), 5:30 PM (retreat / flags down at
sunset), and 10:30 PM (taps / go to sleep, all is well).
The latter two fit our personal schedule, but reveille was an
eye-opener well before we like to open our eyes! The only complaint we had was the
overly-zealous security check-in when we arrived. You can read
more about that
FORT SAM HOUSTON ARMY POST (MILITARY FAMILIES)
I included more information and photos about this campground in
the San Antonio
entries, so I'll be brief here.
Part of the Fort Sam "Fam Camp" at
We loved this place! Although it was difficult to find at night,
it turned out to be very convenient to shopping in the suburbs
and places we wanted to see in the city. There are also a lot of
things to do on this very large post itself. The
installation is located near downtown but it is so big and the
campground so isolated that it doesn't feel like it's in
the city. The cost was relatively low ($16/day, $96/week, $320/month) for full
hook-ups, large sites with concrete pads and lush grass, trees,
laundry room, club house, and nearby trails, golf course,
equestrian center, and all the services available on a large
military base or post.
We highly recommend it, but not when
we want to return -- it is very hard to get reservations at this campground in the
winter! Sunbirds love it, with good reason. We lucked out and
got a spot for a week when someone cancelled a few days
before our arrival in San Antonio. Next time we'll make
reservations much earlier.
TEXAS STATE PARKS: HUNTSVILLE & GALVESTON
We much prefer public(ly owned) campgrounds to private(ly owned)
ones -- places on local, state, or national lands. They are
usually less expensive and more quiet, secluded, scenic, and
I think the fact that we bought an annual pass to a state park
system about six states removed from our own indicates that we
rank at least these two Texas
state parks pretty highly! We
intend to visit them again (or others) before the pass expires.
By purchasing an
annual pass for $60 on the first day of February, we
have a total of thirteen months to enjoy any of the 115+ parks
and historic sites in the state without having to pay the daily
entry fee, which is charged per person, not vehicle. If we'd gotten
the pass on January 31 it would have been valid for
only twelve months. The ranger in the office at Huntsville SP
clued us in to that little fact! There is also a discount on
camping sites, recreational equipment rentals, state park store
merchandise, and special programs and events. We've already
saved enough ($90) on our recent trip to more than pay for the parks
pass and we'll save even more if we go back out there again this
coming winter, as we are planning.
You can make camping reservations at these two parks. Neither
was crowded when we arrived, and neither was completely full on
the weekends we were there. In the winter, you may not even need
to make reservations but I'd advise it the other seasons.
You can find more information and several photos of the campsites at
Huntsville and Galveston Island in previous entries in
this journal. Check the
This is a
great place for runners in the Sunmart and Rocky Raccoon races
to stay if they like to camp. The campsites in the Prairie
Branch unit are very close to the start/finish area, and sites
in the other two units (Raven Hill and Coloneh) are still closer than accommodations in
the city of Huntsville. The winter weather is mild enough to
camp in tents or recreational vehicles.
Our spacious campsite in the "piney woods"
of Huntsville SP
The entrance fee (without a parks pass) is $4 per person per
day. Sites with water are an additional $12 per day or with
water and electricity, $16 per day / $96 per week. Screened
shelters are $20 per day. There are dump stations (no sewers).
All campsites are close to the lake. They are wooded and
spacious and have direct connections to the 20-mile trail
system. Most of the sites in the Prairie Branch unit where we
stayed are geared for small campers. Our 32-foot fifth-wheel is
a medium size, and we could fit into only three or four of the
sites. We forgot to look at the other two units; there
may be more room for larger campers in those.
There are lots of activities for every family member, from
fishing to birding to boating to alligator teasing (just
this entry) to hiking, biking,
running, and horseback riding -- or just plain picnicking and
relaxing. Note: bring bug spray and sunscreen even in
Galveston Island SP:
This would be a nice place to stay all winter if it wasn't for
salt spray eating up your camper. We rarely go to beaches so it
was a real treat, especially in February when we were
procrastinating our return home to chillier weather. What a
beautiful, relaxing place to camp! It's definitely a
"destination" campground. We arrived early enough in the week to
score a dune site, below, but the interior sites in any of the beach
campground units are nice, too.
Park entrance fees (without a parks pass) are $5 per person per
day. Interior beach sites and overflow bay sites are an
additional $20 per day or $400/month; dune sites
are $25 a day or $500 a month. Supply and demand keeps the
prices higher at this park than most of the others in Texas. All
sites have water and electricity. There is one dump station that
accommodates two campers at a time. We had about half an hour
wait to dump when we left on a Sunday morning, similar to our experience
at McDowell Mountain Regional Park near Phoenix when we got
behind a group of campers leaving at the very same time. That's unusual
Sites here are flat and fairly spacious -- about 20-25 feet from our neighbors on either side. Most sites
are back-ins and are long enough for large rigs.
View of sunset over the Gulf of Mexico from
Again, there are lots of things to do in this park and the city
of Galveston, which is about seven miles east. There is the
beach on the Gulf of Mexico, of course -- about two miles of
sand. It's good for whatever you want to do at a beach -- walk,
run, ride a bike, fish, swim, collect shells, etc. The park has
a system of about four miles of trails on the Galveston Bay
side, with golden opportunities for bird and other wildlife
sightings in the prairie and wetlands ecosystems. Sunrises and
sunsets are fantastic anywhere you can get reflections on water.
It's a low-key tropical paradise and it was hard to leave!
MCDOWELL MOUNTAIN PARK, AZ
This large regional park east of Phoenix is tied with Galveston
Island State Park as my favorite campground on this trip.
There's no beach and no bay. In fact, the only body of water I
saw was in a muddy stock pond near the ranches on the Pemberton
McDowell rivaled the beach for
the amount of sand it contains, there is lots of wildlife to
view (like those intriguing javelinas), the sunsets are gorgeous, and it's a beautiful place to
enjoy mild temperatures in the winter.
It has some bonus features, too: less rain and fog than
Galveston Island; more miles of undulating trails to run
or ride; and MOUNTAINS all around it! We love mountains.
Sunset over the McDowell Mountain Range, as
viewed from our campsite
There is a lot of beauty and silence in the desert in the
winter. I wouldn't want to camp there from about April to
October because of the extreme heat, but sunny, 60-degree
afternoons in December and January are just right. Someday I'd
like to be there in the spring to see the cacti and wildflowers
This campground is perfect for the ultras that are run in the
park: Javelina Jundred in late fall and Pemberton 50K in
February. It's also a nice place to hang out before or after any
other race in the Phoenix metro area, like Across the Years.
(It's almost a two-hour drive to ATY, so we wouldn't stay there
during that race. Other units in the Maricopa County
regional parks system are closer to Nardini Manor.)
There are day-use entrance fees to the parks, but they are NOT
addition to the campground fees like they are in the Texas state
The 76 campsites in the family campground with water and
electricity are $18 a night, making it cheaper to stay here than
either of the two Texas state parks we used (even with our parks
pass). The sites are first-come, first-served -- no
reservations here. We had no problems getting a prime spot by
arriving early in the week. The choices are more limited if you
arrive on Friday or Saturday. The maximum stay is supposed to be
fourteen days, but you can extend that if the sites aren't all
taken when you plunk more money down. We were there eighteen or
nineteen days. The only time it filled up completely was our last
weekend when there was a big bike race in the park. There are
two overflow areas without water and electricity for additional
campers when the family campground is full. There are also three
group campgrounds; they can be reserved.
Most of the sites are really large, with lots of desert between
each one. We were at least a hundred feet from campers on either
side of us, and forty feet when someone parked across the road
from us on bike race weekend. We chose a site (shown above) on the outside of our loop
in order to have unobstructed views and more privacy. The campground is
directly linked to the extensive trail system (over 50 miles) in
several places. I could stay here all winter if I was allowed!
NATIONAL FOREST & BLM LANDS
These are our favorite camping sites, but we didn't find any on
this particular trip. One of the many reasons we love our trips to
Colorado so much are the fabulously scenic, FREE boon-docking
sites we've found in that state. The next time we go to the
Southwest we'll do more research ahead of time to see if there
are suitable national forest locations besides Quartzite, AZ where we can camp. Most
of these spots in Arizona and New Mexico appear to be farther
north or at higher elevations that are under snow
in January and February. That defeats our heat-seeking reason
for going there in the first place!
NARDINI MANOR, PHOENIX AREA
OK, this isn't a campground. It's the private property of the
Wrublick family and I shouldn't even include it here. But they
were gracious enough to let us park our camper in their large
gravel parking lot for several days before, during, and after
the Across the Years race on New Year's weekend, and we are
eternally grateful for the opportunity. Being on-site meant we were able to
volunteer for the race significantly more hours than if we'd
been camped at one of the Maricopa County regional parks and it was extremely convenient
on many levels during the three days of the race. Our camper is
in the background near the tree in the photo below:
All things considered, Nardini Manor had to be the BEST place we camped during our
Southwestern trip! Thank you, Rodger.
MISCELLANEOUS THOUGHTS & TIPS
Flying Js are usually our best option for refueling the
truck-camper combo at accessible
diesel pumps and for dumping gray and black water; they also
usually have the cheapest fuel, especially when we use their
discount card. (It's not a credit card.) The card is free and gets us about
3 cents off per gallon. Every little bit helps.