“Sometimes serendipity is just intention unmasked.” Elizabeth Berg, The Years of Pleasures.
More and more campgrounds are allowing reservations; I understand. It makes sense because a great number of people (more than retirees) are doing time on treadmills and thus, need to schedule vacations. Some forethoughtful retirees, the kind that know exactly when and where they'll be at any given future time, need a means to secure campsites in certain parks on certain days. I get it. I have no problem with being able to reserve campsites.
What I do have a problem with is allowing every campground site to be reserved… taken off the market up to a year in advance. It would sure help the more serendipitous traveler if a certain percentage of campsites, say 25 to 35%, could be held on a first come first served basis, especially in more popular locations.
I love and appreciate Maricopa County Parks. They are located smack in the middle of pristine wilderness… Sonoran Desert gems of semi-urban open space that would otherwise have been carved up into housing by developers, long, long ago. These precious open spaces offer hiking, mountain biking, and semi-aloneness.
McDowel Mountain's reputation is getting around; it is possibly the best network of beginning to intermediate biking trails around, most of which are gentle climbs and descents on smooth packed granite. McDowel's trails weave through forests of majestic saguaro's, long-limbed ocotillo, and aromatic creosote bush set in purple mountain foothills (of thee I sing). Heaven, right? Well, yes... for those who made reservations. But hell for drop-ins, due to silly rules made by non-camping desk jockeys that require campers in overflow, or otherwise, to pack up and move to any site that comes open, even if it's for only one night. It doesn't sound so unreasonable in theory—the parks department wants to keep the 30 dollar improved sites occupied. But in practice, however, it creates a negative experience.
Of course there were no improved sites available when we "dropped in" at Cave Creek. So we secured a lane in "overflow" (basically a parking lot where RVs line up in close proximity side by side), and spent a rather noisy night (generators). We had been told that "someone" would contact us in the morning and let us know if we needed to move to an improved site, should one come open. Morning came and we waited, and waited, wasting time… till noon… before "someone" finally showed up. So the best, coolest part of the day was spent in Goldie, a confined space we like to get out of. Hiking that afternoon put us on the trail under direct sun with high contrast light, short on shadow, a condition that bleaches color and depth from photos, not to mention, causes sweat to pour.
The Park's "someone" told us there was an improved site opening; here we go… start the music. The ass-kicker was that we could only stay in that site for one night due to a reservation. So it was back to overflow or another site, and so on. These kind of "one-night-stands" get old, waiting around for a verdict when you should/could be out hiking or biking. The guy agreed that it was ludicrous, and he was apologetic. I inquired if we could just pay the improved site rate and just stay in overflow. No. It is/was musical chairs, only with RV's. Those so unlucky to have to move into an improved site for one night must be back by the noon check out time to make way for incoming campers. This wait-and-see policy sure shoots a hole in longer hikes or day trip plans.
We'd be happy to make reservations, even pay the additional fee to make reservations, but we don't know where Goldie is going to be parked this time next week, let alone next year, because we tend to follow good weather. If we set our plan in cement, made reservations, it would no doubt turn cold and rain… or worse, be in the 90's.
This silly camping policy totally takes my two favorite things out of the equation, Serendipity and Spontaneity. Maricopa County Parks and Rec (and all Govie run public campgrounds) should keep at least a portion of their sites available on a first come first served basis. Additionally, whether improved sites are taken or not, allow customers the option to pay the full $30 rate in exchange for the privilege of staying put in overflow, and not have to worry about moving every single freaking day.
Like Jim and Gayle, we use Govie campgrounds and the occasional RV park when other options to put us at the convenience of where we want/need to be are not suitable (like Walmart or Casino camps). Of course we prefer boondocking, but have evolved to a place where we no longer wear it on our sleeve like some Cub Scout badge of courage or honor like we used to do. If I had to single out the greatest "Life" principle getting older has taught me over the decades, it is to become more flexible—lest, as with trees, I break.
As for Serendipity, I don't know. Perhaps there is no such thing. But if Sara does exist, I have a feeling that her purpose is to provide an opportunity for minor course corrections along our path.
“Vital lives are about action. You can't feel warmth unless you create it, can't feel delight until you play, can't know serendipity unless you risk.” Joan Erickson