by Lee Foster
To determine if RV travel style suits you, consider renting one for a vacation trip.
On one occasion I did just that, foregoing my vintage VW camper for a 24-foot Winnebago mini-motorhome.
(The Yelllow Pages in the phone book list under Recreational Vehicles-Rentals the entities that provide RV’s in your com mu nity. Check out also the helpful Recreation Vehicle Industry Association website at www.rvia.org.)
I decided to take my family of five in an RV from our home near San Francisco out to see Salt Lake and the five National Parks of Utah , plus Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado.
When you rent an RV, I found, allow plenty of time for the orientation check-out. The more elaborate the system, the more complicated are the details. It took me a good hour to get the basic information. I tried diligently to absorb the details. There are some intricacies in the electrical and propane system to become aware of.
“Don’t run the roof air conditioning off the car batteries if you aren’t moving,” said Roger Jollie, of Rolling Homes in Concord . “You’ll ruin the battery in a few hours.”
I wondered how mu ch gas I would have to put into the vehicle, so I asked Roger about mileage.
“My VW gets about 20 miles to a gallon,” I said. “What can I expect from this 24-footer?”
“These big ones start at about six,” said Roger, laconically.
The cost of gas is certainly a factor to consider in any RV selection for rental or purchase when long distances are involved. A quick math calculation told me that my 3000 mile projected Utah trip would take 200 gallons in my VW and about 400-500 in the luxurious mini-motorhome. With fluctuating gas prices in the hinterlands, the gas cost is a factor.
However, the comfortable lifestyle of the RV had many compensations. Daughter Karin loved the whole idea of an RV vacation, living in a kind of enlarged doll house. Son Paul liked the idea of sleeping in the bed over the cab. Teenage son Bart liked the superior stereo system and all the room to stretch out in. Wife Anke, who had once been dehydrated during a trip in the heat of the Sonora Desert of Mexico, liked the air conditioning that would keep her well if the summer weather turned intolerable, as it did. I looked forward to a comfort level that would get the family to Salt Lake with ease while I pushed through on a 15-hour night drive.
As dawn put a pink glow on the mountains of central Nevada , I began to realize that the pleasure of the vehicle was altering my perception. The dependable heat to take chill off the Sierra night and the air conditioning to take the bite out of the desert sun somehow made me view the brushlands of Nevada in a new light. The vehicle had power also, so 55 miles per hour, even on the mountains, could be maintained at all times. The stereo mu sic in my ears somehow made the Humboldt River environs more verdant than I had remembered it on previous desert crossings. I was tempted to take out my cameras to make images of the region around Wells, which I had previously dismissed uncharitably as a wasteland. We arrived intact in Salt Lake with less sibling bickering than is part and parcel of family travel. Such are the pleasures of a luxurious 24-foot RV.
At first I had some misgivings about the size of the vehicle. Would it be difficult to get in and out of places that I wanted to see? The first day I did feel as if I were driving a large boat. But soon I became familiar with the vehicle and found it as easy to maneuver as my own car. I didn’t find myself excluded from any possible places that I wanted to see on the two-week trip.
As each day of the trip unfolded, at least one special pleasure of the large RV became apparent.
In Salt Lake our group wanted to split up to see different parts of the downtown area. Parking near the Visitor Center , we had a comfortable base to return to during the day or at our appointed rendezvous hour. We spent the entire day in Salt Lake , with family members able to use the vehicle for food, drink, coolness, a toilet, and a resting place. When traveling with a 6-and-8-year-old, these virtues are major.
Leaving Salt Lake , we drove to Arches National Park . We arrived at Arches about 8 p.m. as a lovely Utah sunset bathed the red oxide rock in delicate tones. However, the campsite was full. Undismayed, we took the ranger’s advice and parked our vehicle near the scenic Colorado River Road a few miles from the park entrance. We were “self-contained.” Food, drink, sleeping space, toilet, shower, and air conditioning were available. I was even able to plug my computer into the car’s cigarette lighter to proceed on my editorial coverage.
The next day we explored Arches, which amounted to an all-day drive through the park, with stops for hiking and photography. Though temperatures hit the high 90s, our team of five enjoyed this outing very mu ch because, again, no one needed to rush back to the motel for our life- and comfort-support systems. We found that in the RV we were able to continue on long outings in comfort because our “home” was always with us. We could move through the landscape, perhaps take a mile walk to see a geological formation, and return to the complete support systems of the home.
During two days at Canyonlands National Park we used Moab as our base. The Canyonlands Camping Park there had a swimming pool, hot showers, and clean restrooms, conditions we found repeated at the better camps, such as some KOA camps.
Unless you have visited Utah , it is difficult to explain fully how mu ch open land exists out there. At Canyonlands National Park , for example, which has no services, you are about four hours from the nearest restaurant meal or motel. This is prime RV country.
At Cortez , NM , near Mesa Verde National Park , we were able to camp out on a mesa at an excellent KOA, soaking in a pool and spa while watching the Ute Mountain . Because we had our travel system with us, we were able to enjoy this scenic setting.
When we left Mesa Verde and passed southwest to Four Corners , we found ourselves that evening at Natural Bridges National Monument . This was an excellent place to be, with the bridges viewed at sunset and again in early morning light, but the only way to enjoy them in the heat of the desert was with an RV. The only service at Natural Bridges was a 5-gallon limit on available water. Forget about a motel or restaurant.
After the first week we had settled comfortably into the RV. Everyone knew the systems to make it function. Everyone had learned how to sleep comfortably in it.
At Capitol Reef National Park the campground put us in an old Mormon fruit orchard. Aside from the fact, again, that there was no motel lodging as an alternative, this was a camping park that encouraged patrons to pick the fruit. We arrived when the peaches were in season, and were happy to stock up.
At Bryce Canyon National Park , it occurred to me that no one had asked to eat at a restaurant yet. With a full gas stove and a microwave, cooking in our RV was easy. The full-size fold-down table sat four of us comfortably, with the fifth person sitting adjacent in the plush swivel seat. The years of experience that had gone into design of the vehicle were evident.
At Zion , as our trip came to an end, I realized that we had explored each day and then used effectively each evening of our trip. When tent camping or traveling in our VW camper, the day tended to end with the sunset. There was an urge to go to sleep rather than stay up in the cramped, ill-lit quarters. But the RV had plenty of room to walk around in, excellent lighting, and a level of comfort that encouraged reading or writing in the evening.
At the end of the trip, when I began to add up the experience of the individual days, the pattern of our RV travel style emerged. With the RV we always had a clean toilet, coolness while the summer temperature rose to 100, plenty of space for five people, comfortable sleeping accommodations, plenty of cool drink on demand, plenty of good food on demand, complete cooking facilities, and the freedom to be anywhere at any time, independent of the schedules or proximity of service providers, such as restaurants and motels.
The cost of the rental, aside from gas, was moderate. The campsites was also moderate in cost, including private camp with amenities such as a pool and hot showers, plus water and electrical hookups and the opportunity to dump holding tanks of sewage or grey water. Our 14-day venture for a family of five could be described as an affordable vacation, even though we chose a fairly luxurious model RV.
For family fun and a good way to see the magnificent National Park of Utah (and Colorado ), RV travel received our family’s enthusiastic vote.
If you plan to buy an RV, make several such excursions in different rentals to choose one that best suits your needs and budget.