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Monday, March 30, 2015

Merry-Go-Round, Musical Chairs, and Roulette, All Rolled Into Bad Policy

“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


  1. I hate most that certain areas are completely off limits to frugal by necessity campers in favor of those with $$$ to pay and foresight to have reservations for parks. Some areas have no other options as boondocking options do not exist are are limited by the govees. It requires another set the sail and adjust. Yep, I hate it too !!

  2. Yes, we hate it that reservations are now a necessity at Maricopa County parks. Since we plan to be at McDowell in Dec/Jan, we already have a reminder set up on our calendar for 6 months in advance when we can make the reservations. Not the way we like to do business, but we'll play the game because we love it there and have our annual medical appointments at the Mayo Clinic. Guess we should all voice our opinions with someone of authority at the county...

  3. Same problem we have here in Texas as all the state parks are booked every weekend so we just stay monday thru thursday and then move out to a commercial park...

  4. I'm totally with you. I wish just a few sites were setup for non reservation and/or you could chose to stay permanently in the overflow. It's one of the things I loved about traveling NM...always sites available for drop ins. I guess the parks need the money to max $$ so reservation it is. Makes it tough for us nomads who prefer to travel by weather and inclination.

  5. I hate that when we decide to go out camping (we live in a house and camp when we can) many times nothing is available anywhere that we want to go. Your roller coaster is just ridiculous and yes it would be nice if there were some first come first serve sites available and having to move once set up is totally STUPID..........if the ones that make those decisions were forced to go out and spend their vacation time doing that dog and pony show I bet it would change fast!
    Thanks for the heads up on McDowell as it would be fun to go there for the mountain biking trails but I guess one has to reserve instead of just show up.

  6. I agree with you completely, but I will also add "thank goodness for that overflow," because it saved my skin in McDowell (twice) in Cave Creek, and Lost Dutchman, when I arrived with little to no plan in mind. I guess I got lucky in that they weren't as strict on the "move into available site" rules while I was there.

    I think Lost Dutchman State Park gets it right. They accept reservations, but then they have a beautiful new loop that is just for "Overflow," and is first come, first serve. It is a nice loop with level parking, great views, easy access to the trails, and you don't have to move when something more "official" (or in my opinion, "less desirable") comes available. Best of all worlds...except for the generators. ;-)

    Loved your quotes!

  7. Crazy policies! We just learned a couple of months ago that the COE campground by the river that we spend a lot of summer time in has now decided to go reservations only. They have always had one loop first come first served, which worked wonderfully for may local people who would discover they had a few less busy days to go camping and would then be able to find a place through the weekend. The majority of campers were people within a 50 mile radius. Some head ranger thought it would be more fair?? So we now have a lot of money tied up in reservations sprinkled throughout the summer and hope that we can use most of them when the time comes. We're hoping there are enough complaints that they will reconsider for next year. It think it just makes life easier for the rangers to do it this way.

  8. This Russian roulette of campsites seems utterly ridiculous. I do understand reservations for these now crowded and desired campgrounds, but why not be able to stay in overflow for either the full price or less rather than moving, possibly every day. Rather takes the joy out of spontaneity, and getting in some good morning hikes.

  9. I agree completely. I stayed at Cave Creek once a couple of years ago on the spur of the moment (it was May so practically empty). Nice park! I guess reservations were not needed then. It would be off limits to me now as I don't plan 6-months or a year in advance and/or don't want to sit around all morning waiting for my fate to be decided and relayed to me. I would have been horrified at your experience. I also can't imagine people are allowed to run generators - ugh! (I am completely onboard with being allowed to pay the $30 and stay in overflow though.)

  10. I know sometimes we make a reservation like when we went to Glacier year before last during the time for summer vacations....we have also made reservations and then had to cancel. Most places allow you to cancel for a small fee. If you think there is a remote possibility you will be there reserve your spot.

  11. I agree with the idea that some sites should be first come, first serve. We really like the flexibility of changing plans when we want but we pay the price sometimes in $$$ and location. We have just found private parks work for our last minute life style. If we really need or want to stay in a state or regional park, we bit the bullet and make a reservation in advance and hope for the best.

  12. Private an public campground reservation policies have made us crazy for more years than I care to remember. Do not even get me started on membership parks:)

  13. What about moving the RV to a day use area early in the morning, go hiking or biking and then come back to the campground afterword and prob be put back into overflow, let the next guy on the list get the available campsite. They can't make you sit in the camper all morning waiting for a knock on the door.

  14. So I wonder how many people are making reservations on the "remote" possibility that they may be able to use them and then cancel at the last minute. That just makes it worse for everyone else. A lot of places won't even let you make "same day" or one day out reservations so some slots probably sit empty.

  15. I don't like when they allow someone to reserve their site, and a site on either side of them thus locking up 3 sites while you are told there are no open sites! Greedy Ba*&^%ds

  16. Guess we've been lucky, most parks we've been to do set some aside for first come first serve. I know COE parks have that policy, as do Wisconsin State Parks, though if you're hoping to snag one for the weekend best show up on Thursday or very early on Friday! That situation there sounds like a nightmare I would have absolutely zero patience for and would have moved on down the road.


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