Saturday, March 14, 2015

How did we manage before?

I was doing some wandering around the Intertubes, researching campgrounds that would fit into the tentative itinerary the S.O. and I have been contemplating for the month of April, and it hit me: How did people do this stuff before? The answer is obvious -- before the Internet, they relied on publications like the Good Sam guides and the telephone. And before that, they'd just show up at campgrounds and hope there was space available on a first come, first served basis.

There are still campers who do that. Every time I help in the fee booth I see a few campers who just show up hoping there's space available. Montauk State Park still has sites that are non-reservable; they're filled on a walk-in (drive-in?) basis. Not all campgrounds are like that; more and more are going to a 100% reservable status. Which means the odds of someone who's doing a spontaneous camping expedition finding a space on the spur of a moment are getting slimmer and slimmer. There were a couple weekends in October where we wound up putting out the No Vacancy sign at the fee booth pretty early in the afternoon, and I'm sure the same thing will happen this month. If the weather forecast hadn't included rain and a flash flood alert, we might have had to do it yesterday: every single reserveable site, with the exception of one or two handicapped accessible spaces, was reserved. For some reason, though, the first come sites filled up slowly. There were still quite a few available when our shift in the booth ended. This weekend, incidentally, is typical of most weekends during the "on season" here. From now through October, most Fridays and Saturdays the reservable sites are already sold out. Montauk is a popular park. But, as usual, I digress.

There was a time when the spontaneous aspect of just wandering aimlessly and hoping to find a decent place to park the Guppy for a few nights would have appealed to me. I must be getting old because now I prefer a little more structure. I want an itinerary that includes definite stops, places where I know when we get there, we won't find ourselves driving around a campground, circling like sharks hoping to spot a slow or stupid seal, looking for an open site that isn't too muddy, too out in the open or (alternatively) right under a hazard tree, or too close to the sites next to it. I want to be able to stop at a campground's fee booth/check station and say those magic words: "We have a reservation." I find myself getting really annoyed at the campgrounds that have web sites that are basically just glorified Yellow Pages advertisements -- no interactive features, no online ability to reserve a site, just an 800 number to call. I want to be able to do this stuff at a time that is convenient to me (5 a.m.?), not between the normal business hours of 8 and 5. I don't want to have to deal with humans. Humans make mistakes. They misspell names, transpose numbers, and sell people's credit card information to their shady acquaintances.

In short, what could end up determining the April itinerary is which state park systems and which private campgrounds have decent online reservation systems in place and which don't. At this point, avoiding burning up Tracfone minutes is trumping most other factors. The exceptions will come when (if?) it turns out the only campgrounds reasonably close to where we want to be in our ambles are still doing business using goose quills and parchment. I'm hoping I don't stumble across too many of them.

As for the itinerary, so far it's made it into Arkansas and Crater of Diamonds State Park. We've always been a little bit curious about a place where you can supposedly find actual diamonds in the dirt. I wasn't too impressed with the website -- it has only one photo of a campsite, and you don't get to pick a specific site yourself -- but it is an online reservation system so I won't complain too much about its flaws. The S.O. and I did kick around the idea of stopping in Hot Springs for a few days -- the National Park Service has a nice campground at Gulpha Gorge (first come, first served for every site, but I'll make exceptions to my preference for online reservations when it's an NPS campground) -- but we've decided to focus our amblings this Spring on places neither of us has been before.

And now back to the Internet and trying to figure out what looks good in Texas.

It has struck me that our amblings in the Guppy aim us in the opposite direction of most RVs with cold state plates in April. We're going South when most retirees will be heading North. The annual snowbird migration is beginning; we've already had a couple of retirees pass through here on their way north from Texas to Illinois. I guess the people going north now just don't realize that April is the best month of the year in Texas.


  1. I don't stay in campgrounds when I travel, I boondock, but I don't need hookups.

  2. We'll do some boondocking, too, but there are several places where we'd like to spend a few days in one area and that's when it'd be handy to have a campsite nailed down in advance.

  3. But finding out whether you'll have a campsite or be boondocking is half the fun! Reminds me of when I pulled into one campground shortly before dark. It was clear all the campsites were full, so I just kept going up the road until I found a flat place suitable for boondocking, and had a beautiful night under the stars without a sound to disturb the peace...

  4. I have always been an impromptu traveller. With a wife and four kids, that was not always smart. When the oldest was 13 and the youngest 6, we drove to Oregon, via Custer Battlefield, Yellowstone (the year after the fire) and then across Idaho rather than take the interstate around the south end. I wanted to see the lava beds, and there was a campground at the Devil's Playground National Monument. One broken fanbelt later, we arrived at the Devil's Playground at 9:00 pm to find the "campground" looked like the bottom of a coal mine. We were tenting. We drove and once we hit the interstate started looking for a motel. Stoopid rules say no more than five to a room. At 2:00 am I lied about the size of the family and we went to bed. I was less than popular.


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