Where is the strangest place you ever camped?
When I was a kid growing up in the ‘60s, our summer trips in our Skamper pop-up trailer took us to some pretty sketchy places to camp overnight. We were on a budget, of course.
Mom used to say it didn’t cost that much for us to hit the road because gas was something like 28 cents a gallon and we rarely ate out. I remember lots of bologna sandwiches!
We probably camped for little to nothing. National Parks were wide open and free or a few dollars. I clearly recall the peculiar little trailer camps where we seemed to be the only transients when we hit cities like San Francisco and Houston.
The strangest place I remember was near the middle of nowhere next to a motel that was literally falling apart. Still, a toilet worked. There just weren’t any doors and other pieces of the building were also missing.
Mom must have asked someone if it was OK. And here’s my point: The power of asking.
The travel group I belong to, Wandering Individuals Network, used to park for five nights in tiny downtown Patagonia, AZ, southeast of Tucson, every February, because we asked. Other RVs who drove by and saw this weren’t allowed to overnight with us because they didn’t ask first.
One of our older members would write the city council every December to ask. She was old-school, so she actually wrote the letters. We are good, tidy citizens and spent money at the small shops and Velvet Elvis restaurant, so we were welcome. A wide strip of land goes right through “downtown.” It must have contained railroad tracks at one time but now is a linear city park. Maybe 12 or 15 of us used to arrive each year, but our circuit differs these days.
Here is another point: Asking in advance will get you a lot further.
The same kind of group stayed one summer for six days in the city or county employee parking lot in Grand Marais, Michigan, six years ago, overlooking Lake Superior. Apparently, that lot wasn’t used much. One of our members called a few months ahead to ask where we could stay. We gathered a $5 nightly donation and again were good citizens and spent a lot of money in town.
This spring I ran into trouble at the DMV in southern Illinois. So, I walked across the street and asked the owner of an auto repair shop if I could park on his lot overnight. I would have been happy to pay him $10, but he let me stay for free. Nice guy. Again, the power of the “ask.”
If you’ve been to Florida, you know how hard it is to find anything but expensive RV parks. But a friend found Babcock Webb Wildlife Management Area near Punta Gorda. It’s only open a few months a year to campers (and you need a state fishing license), but 12 of us stayed for free two years ago and it was a blast! (You have to get over the constant baying of hunting dogs though.) Great biking trails, a lake to kayak in, and lots to do nearby.
Two years ago (in June!) I drove into Lassen Volcanic National Park in northern California at about 4 p.m. and asked at the front desk if there were any available camping spots. Of course, there were not. But here’s a surprise: The ranger let me park in the main visitors’ center parking lot for $10. Wow! I had no idea someone could do that! There were about five other RVs there and as many folks camping out of their cars. It was a pretty cool experience!
A few years ago, I stayed at the Illinois State Fairgrounds campground. I was there to meet two friends and didn’t see many other RVs, so it was a little spooky. All this magnificent space in the heart of my state’s capital and it was deserted. I would not have gone there on my own, but it was perfectly located.
I admit I would never have thought of these places by myself, but the lesson I have learned is when you think outside the box (i.e., conventional campsites), a whole new world awaits.
So: Where is the strangest place you have ever camped? Post it in the comments and I may be able to share your experiences!