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Finding community in campgrounds, like going back to the 1950s

By Rod Andrew
About 12 years ago my wife and I made our first trek south, towing a trailer from British Columbia to Southern California. Early in the trip, we learned something that you readers probably already know, but which came as a surprise to us. We found community.

I had thought that travelling would be all about where we went and what we saw and did, but found that this would really only be a small part of what lay ahead.

As this was our first RV adventure, we were following friends who had made many long RV trips south and were showing us the ropes. We planned on spending two months travelling together, as they introduced us to their favourite destinations. We learned a lot from them every day and avoided making many mistakes, simply by listening to their advice and following their example. Not everybody has such experienced and patient mentors on that important first trip.

Life at Bashford’s

After six days of steady driving, we finally followed our guides into an RV park that was nestled next to the beautiful Chocolate Mountains. It was called Bashford’s Hot Mineral Spa. Our previous camping experiences had been in fairly primitive forestry campgrounds in BC, so the ability to connect to electricity, water and sewage disposal was, to us, luxury.  We planned on spending about a week there.

Bashford’s was not, at that time, a “fancy” facility, such as the nearby Fountain of Youth, but may have become more upscale, now. It was, however, very welcoming. We were assigned a space and began to set up. The ground was sloping, so I asked the manager if he could help us get the trailer horizontal. He said that wouldn’t be a problem, took up a shovel and followed us back to the site.

“Just dig a hole behind the wheels on the high side, then back in.”  He began the excavation, then left us the shovel and wished us luck.

In all of our travels since, we have never encountered such a casual attitude. Usually, there are strict rules in parks about not altering the grounds in any way. This was the first of several surprises.

Bashford’s, for those of you who are interested, has several individual hot tubs, which are fed by hot springs and drained and refilled after each use. It also has a swimming pool and other recreation facilities. After our long drive down, my wife and I were happy to take it easy for a few days. Our guides introduced us to a couple of their friends who were already staying there, as part of their regular travelling routine. Most of the residents, we learned, had been staying at Bashford’s for years, usually for months at a time. We wondered why they would stay in one place when there were so many different places to see.

RVers are more open to social connections

We had had no experience with the social life of RV parks but knew how difficult it could be to make friends in new neighbourhoods. Our busy work schedules and active lifestyles can often isolate us, and the easy availability of entertainment and online social connections can make seeking new networks of friends complicated and unnecessary. The idyllic worlds and communities of 1950s suburban life as seen in the movies, are, today, much harder to create.

Not so in RV parks. We were all travellers and, probably, more open to social connections than we are in our regular homes. Or so we discovered. We had only been there for a day, when we were invited to participate in the community Happy Hour, which, we soon learned, is the centre of RV life. We all had stories to tell and were happy to share them. I had expected a little awkwardness in making new friends so quickly, but the process was remarkably smooth.  Food and drink were shared, potential political differences were avoided, and a sense of camaraderie rapidly made us welcome.

Over the next few days, groups of campers included us in dinner excursions, hikes, bike rides, and trips to local sights. One night, the Canadian contingent challenged the Americans to a friendly competition at the recreation hall, which involved costumes and a lot of silliness and ended with a dance, with the music supplied by an impromptu band, including a pianist in her 80’s, who really rocked. Apparently, this event was an annual occurrence: every second year, Canadians and Americans rotated organizational responsibilities.

We were also invited to participate in a pancake breakfast, a regular event.

Building community

By now, I had begun to understand what was going on. These people were not going to Bashford’s to simply have new experiences, or to escape their “normal” lives: they were there to build a new community, one that was sometimes stronger than the one they were a part of in their regular homes. I had recently lived, for 10 years, in a strata complex, where my contacts with my neighbours were all concerned with strata business. My friendships, and my neighbours, were centered on work or family, so the openness to reaching out that I saw at Bashford’s was a surprise.

Paradise

Of course, you already know all of this, since you have probably been, or still are, members of one or more of these warm RV communities, but it was a revelation to me. My wife and I spent the next two or three years “down south” simply travelling, moving every few days.  It was exhilarating, but tiring. We wouldn’t give up any of our experiences on the road, although we wouldn’t want to live through some of them again, but, eventually, my wife said she wanted to spend more time in one place. We both remembered how much we had enjoyed our experience at Bashford’s. Perhaps we could be a part of a similar community.  By then, we had visited enough places to know what we valued and decided that our winter home would be in Borrego Springs. The town had all of the amenities we would need, including a vibrant creative life, along with amazing hikes and bike rides. Oh, and a welcoming tennis club. And pickleball. The town was also small, with no traffic lights.

Paradise.

Since our decision, we have stayed at the same RV park in Borrego Springs for a number of years, enjoying the same sense of community that we had discovered at Bashford’s, reuniting each year with people who now shared past experiences with us and looked forward to each new year together.

I still get a lift out of that welcoming sentence that I hear when we pull in: “We’re glad you’re back again.”  Usually followed by, “Happy hour is at 5, site 120.  See you there.”

I was once told by a fellow snowbirder to remember why we were in Southern California.  “It’s for the sun!” he said.

That was partly why we first took the trip down, but it’s not why we keep going back.

Community feels a lot like going back to the 1950s

Community is why we have gone, year after year.  A lot like going back to the 1950s.  Without the children, of course, but nothing is perfect.

As I write this, I’m looking out at snow-covered hills on the far side of a river.

Snowy lake

I know that this is a beautiful setting, but, after three months of cold and snow, I’d prefer to be looking at this.

Sprawling Borrego SpringsAnxiety about Covid has kept us at home, but we hope we’ll be back on the road next year.  We’ve kept in touch with our California friends and look forward to, once again, hiking the hills and canyons around Borrego Springs with them.

##RVT1039

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Richard
7 months ago

16 yrs FT – We’ve found friendly people everywhere we’ve gone. All of our “Best” friends are people we met on the road, from many countries. Almost everyone is glad to greet you, talk with you, share their dog with you, or help you. The education/joy you get from other’s life stories is immense. Inside, people are pretty similar. It’s the circumstances that separate us.

travelingjw
7 months ago

One of the things that has surprised us since we retired and purchased our TT was the “lack of community” that we have found while traveling. We often stay for multiple days but have found few others that have an interest in “getting to know” each other. We always say “hi” and are willing to visit but just find that most others traveling are too busy with their activities. This is not saying anyone is unfriendly, quite the opposite, but we find very little sense of community or the desire of others to visit.

Virginia
7 months ago
Reply to  travelingjw

I honestly think that is a sign of the times. We have camped for many years and only recently felt the “community” culture start to slip away. However, we notice it more at smaller, family run-type campgrounds and those with seasonal campers.

Drew
7 months ago

Nice story- thanks for that! We love Borrego Springs. We’ve stayed at Palm Canyon and more recently at The Springs of Borrego. I love the Mexican restaurant called Pablito’s and also the gift shop in the mall where I like to buy fridge magnets!

mimi
7 months ago

Thanks for a nice read. I, too, enjoy the sense of community that I have found in certain campgrounds. The secret is in finding just the right one! Glad to know that you did then, and have, now.

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