One of the ways many RVers save money, and get to stay in some really beautiful locations, is to hang out in US Corps of Engineers parks.
The mission of the Corps of Engineers for OUR purpose was established back in the 1820's to control and protect US waterways; especially as concerns flood control. The Corps is also the largest supplier of fresh water in the United States through the construction of dams and creation of reservoirs. The electricity these dams create account for 25% of all hydroelectric power generated in the US. While the Corps of Engineers manage 8 different districts across the United States, the one's that interest those of us who RV are the three southern districts, as they manage the majority of Corps-created parks and campgrounds.
As you can imagine, when you create reservoirs to provide drinking water to many areas, or to simply control flooding during wet seasons, you inevitably create shorelines. Those shorelines become prime real estate for recreation, and the Corps of Engineers have provided the US with hundreds of parks and campgrounds to enjoy. A few are small and only accommodate tent camping, but the rest range from mid-sized parks that encompass 50-80 largely level campsites that can take most RVs, to larger campgrounds that swell to more than 200 sites and can handle the biggest of motorhomes.
Because of their location, most sites in Corps campgrounds offer views of the water, and that's their charm. Very rarely are there site that are landlocked. It's one of the big positives to Corps camping. The downside is that while most sites offer power and water hookups, very few Corps parks have sewer connections. This means that the longer you stay, the more you have to leave your site temporarily to dump your black and gray water tanks. Not the most difficult thing to do, but disconnecting from water and electric, as well as securing items in the RV for a move, can get a bit tedious the more you have to do it. One other minor downside: If you're visiting people at night outside of the park, you have to time your return to be before 10:30 as the park's gates close then.
It actually helps that the Corps has restrictions on how long you can stay at their parks, and how long BETWEEN stays at the same park. This keeps full-timers from establishing “permanent” residency in parks like many do in private parks, and reduces the amount of “junk” that people bring to recreate. At least most people. I'm always amazed at the amount of “stuff” people pack into their pickup trucks and storage spaces that get unloaded for a week or weekend, only to be crammed back into their spaces when people leave.
Anyway, back to limits on stays. The rule is that you can stay for up to 14 days at a time, and only within a 30-day timeframe. So for example, you can stay from the 1st to the 14th of a given month, but you have to leave the park and cannot come back in until 30 days from the 1st has transpired. So if you want to keep moving between local parks (like we've done in Georgia from late March until the end of April), you need a rotation of at least 3 Corps parks to make this work. Two weeks in one park, two weeks in another park, and because you've only taken up 28 days thus far, you need at least one week in a third park before you can go back to the first one. All this is predicated on being able to find an open campsite for the timeframes you need if you don't plan way ahead when campgrounds begin to take reservations.
It can be challenging.
But the payoff is HUGE. Not only do you get to recreate on (or near) water, but Corps park are generally quiet due to being situated well off of most roadways. In addition, most of them have long driveways to handle your vehicles, and wide spots separated by relatively dense trees so that you don't see or hear your neighbor very often. In addition, they have level packed-sand areas for chairs, tables, and shelters that the RVer might bring with them, plus fire rings so you and your friends can gather around a warm and cozy fire at the end of the day.
And you can't beat the price. Anywhere from $26 - $30 per night, and if you have certain passes like our Senior Park Pass or Military Park Pass, you pay half price for every night. Very nice, even if you do have to dump tanks every 3-6 days.
Reservations are handled on a very user-friendly app at Recreation.gov.. You can look at pictures of your specific site at many parks, and the site descriptions detailing what equipment is allowed are usually pretty accurate (if on the safe side). We've seen quite a few sites that their description might have caused us to avoid, yet could fit our motorhome in with just a bit of difficulty.
If you're an RVer and haven't tried Corps of Engineers campgrounds, you're missing out on one of the best benefits of RVing.
For full-time RVers like us, "home" is where we park it. But heading back to Georgia for a Jace fix is kinda like heading home, just as heading up to Massachusetts for a visit is much like heading home. Spending approximately 30 years in each place will make it seem that way.
Our next real stop was in the Houston, TX area, but that meant we had one day to get to the eastern edge of New Mexico in Las Cruces, and two travel days across the length of I-10 in Texas. Fortunately for us, while the stretch of I-10 east of Beaumont, TX and into Louisiana is legendary for it's poor condition, I-10 through AZ, NM, and much of TX is in pretty good shape.
One of the more striking views on I-10 is near the border of Arizona heading into New Mexico, and it just so happens that a rest area exists right in the middle of it, making for a great photo opportunity. It's called Texas Canyon, and it has some of the most unique rock formations we've ever seen in our travels thus far. Giant, smooth rocks perched in various positions, almost as if placed there by some unseen hand. Huge boulders perched vertically on top of other rock formations that look as if they would tumble down with the slightest touch. It's no more than a half mile long, which makes it all the more reason to believe it's been staged, but it's not.
Our goal with the price of gas going up so much in between the time we got out west to the time we needed to leave was to “overnight cheap”. Our first night was at a rest area over looking Las Cruces, NM from the west. It's up high, allowing you to look down upon the entire city, had dedicated RV parking spots where you could extend slides, and featured the world's largest road runner sculpture made entirely out of recycled scrap metal.
We battled high winds the entire trip eastward through New Mexico and Texas, and fortunately they were tailwinds which helped our gas mileage considerably – especially given the recent high prices for gas. And the further east we went, the lower the gas prices became. But it was very nice to see an extra 100 miles on my “miles to empty” display as the newer tailwind efficiency was calculated by the on-board computer. At one point I was getting 11 miles to the gallon, where usually I get 8-8.5 mpg. Winning!
Once in West Texas, the winds that helped us out so much also brought a brief period of driving trouble as well – dust storms! We've managed to avoid those potentially dangerous driving conditions so far, and these certainly weren't the worst we were warned to expect based on the signs that are posted in New Mexico, but they were bad enough to make me drop down to about 40 mph in places for the next 35-45 minutes of driving. I can only imagine what one of these would be like at night.
Our fuel stop at the Ft. Stockton Flying J was downright treacherous. By this time, the winds were constant at 40+mph with gusts into the 50's and we pulled into the RV pumps facing directly into the teeth of the wind. Opening the heavy door to our motorhome was a challenge, especially getting down the stairs without it slamming back into you. Grover wouldn't even stay outside long enough to do his business! Good thing our fuel fill is in the rear of the coach, so I could hide behind the bulk of the RV out of the wind, but I still got plenty of grit in my eyes during the 10-15 minutes it took to fill the tank.
After another night in a rest stop along I-10 and a drive through the very quaint town of Fredericksburg, TX (a place we are DEFINITELY coming back to), we finally found our home base for the next 3 days just south of Houston, TX. We were there to catch up with long-time friend Bob Johnson and his wife, Susan, both fellow RVers we had camped with 2 years previously, and to visit Space Center Houston.
Passport America got us a $20 per night stay at Safari RV and Mobile Home Park. They have about a half-dozen pull through sites for RVers who are just passing through, and the rest of the sites are for full-time residents. For the price, it's really not bad at all, and it put us just 15 minutes away from the Space Center.
For space buffs like me, Space Center Houston was – okay. The highlight was being able to actually enter and walk through the 747 / Space Shuttle combination that once transported the shuttle from it's original landing site in California (before they began landing at Cape Canaveral) back across the country to Florida, and also served as the means to test fly the first shuttle Enterprise to validate it's glide characteristics. Another treat was to walk through a building which contained an unused Saturn V rocket that would have been used on a future moon landing mission had the number of flights not been scaled back by budget cuts at NASA.
Another highlight of our trip eastbound back to Georgia was a stop in Beaumont, TX to visit with fellow RVers Byron and Lynn Hill. They have a Tiffin Open Road 34PA built the same year as ours, and they liked our color scheme so much they asked if they could use it as well. We had been in the same park with them twice before, but had been separated by about a dozen or more spaces each time. This time, just by happenstance, the park office had us both in adjoining sites! Given our unique color scheme, it was very strange to see the two of us parked side-by-side!
Our final stop on the way to Georgia was a trip to Vicksburg, Mississippi. We took a driving tour of the Civil War battlefield, then went downtown to eat and see Vicksburg's famous flood wall mural.
Overall, the trip to Arizona was a good one, and I suspect we'll see that state again in future winters, perhaps for a bit longer next time. Our first trip with flat-towing the Jeep Cherokee was an unqualified success and proved to be much easier than our previous tow dolly setup with the Mini, even if the Jeep isn't quite as much fun as the Mini was to drive.
Upcoming is 5 weeks in and around Lake Lanier Corps of Engineer parks (one to take care of our grandson, Jace, during his Spring Break), and then it's time to head out to an early May trip to New England to visit family and friends, and take in an all-important high school reunion for Barbara!
They say getting there is half the fun. Sometimes, but not always. On our way through West Texas, the Flying J station that purportedly had dedicated site for motorhomes to park in didn't actually have them, so we ended up driving into the sunset, finally stopping at the last exit in Texas at another Flying J, which did have spaces for us in which to park.
When last we left things, our bedroom slide was back to better than it ever was, and we were headed to the Phoenix area for a month.
But first, a little diversion.
Since we were staying at the Pima County Fairgrounds RV park, we decided to check out one of the various shows and events they host there on a regular basis. One was an animatronic dinosaur show that Jace would have loved to see, but we passed on that. The other was a relatively small (for us, anyway) RV show put on by the local LaMesa RV dealership. Now, we have no intention of upgrading to a newer or different unit, but we're suckers for an RV show.
So we're looking through some bigger diesel motorhomes, most of them Tiffins, and remarking that the prices seemed pretty reasonable, when suddenly we see a sticker on the unit that we're in. It's NOT a new Tiffin diesel motorhome, but a 2018 resale! Then we suddenly realize that ALL the “reasonably” priced diesel models were 2020 or older resales!
Now, the reason we're shocked is that we have always been told that RV's are a depreciating asset. In our history with them, they ALWAYS lose value once they're driven off the lot. No so (apparently) in the topsy-turvy, post-COVID world where everything has been turned upside down. Five year-old motorhomes are worth more than, or at least equal to, the price they were new (including ours, btw). Never thought I'd ever see that.
Now it's time for a month in blessedly warmer weather. Casa Grande, AZ is about 40 minutes south of the Phoenix area; a reasonable drive to see my brother Doug and sister-in-law Tracey, but far enough away to save some money on resort fees. And instead of a “campground”, we get to stay in an actual “resort” for a month.
What's the difference between a campground and a resort, you ask? Usually a pool and a working hot tub. And a 30% increase in cost. But I digress . . .
Casa Grande RV Resort is nestled in the outskirts of the small town of Casa Grande. It's an older, but relatively well-maintained park. The sites are wide enough that you don't feel like you can hear your neighbor showering in the morning (I hear that's a thing), and the staff for the most part goes out of their way to help. Like the front desk person at check-in who insisted I owed $200 LESS than they had quoted me just two days earlier when I made our reservations. Hating surprises, I decided to point out her error rather than take the win, because I knew it would catch up with me later on. And true to it's designation as a “resort”, it has two pools – one for adults only and one for families - and a working hot tub!
They also get high marks for having multiple events to keep their snowbirds happy each day, including a free breakfast every weekday. French toast Monday's were the resident favorite, btw. The other weekdays revolved around pancakes or waffles. You know you're truly retired when your schedule revolves around free or discounted food, like French toast Mondays or getting to the Golden Corral before 5 o'clock for the Senior Special.
Grover got a chance to lose some weight when he accompanied us on long and swift walks around the campground. He had recently been declared “obese” by his vet and put on weight management food. So walking was good for both him and us. He also made many new friends of the human variety and a few of the canine variety at the dog park.
Arizona, like West Texas, has a stark beauty all it's own. It's not only a “Miles and miles of miles and miles” thing, but much of the scenery isn't found anywhere else in the US.
Saguaro National Park is home to one of the densest concentrations of Saguaro Cacti in the US. Some of these can reach as tall as three stories high, and can have a dozen or more arms poking out in any direction. Holes found high up in the cactus are homes drilled out by birds to provide shelter from the heat and desert predators. The drive through the national park is full of dips and rises, but there is no shortage of bike riders getting their exercise in some beautiful scenery. Lot's of pull-overs to stop and view the unique natural beauty of this park.
Our visit in Arizona also brought us to a walking tour of Biosphere II, an experiment to see how long humans could live in an enclosed space without any outside assistance. Created way out in the boonies, Biosphere was an interesting concept that almost worked. Even though it didn't enjoy complete success, it advanced our knowledge of self-sustainable environments and is paving the way for new experiments that will help us learn about Planet Earth on a micro scale. I could never handle living in Biosphere. No meat protein.
In the middle of our Arizona stay, we made a relatively short trip over to Gila Bend to visit with Tiffin friends Joe and Susan Pierce. We met them in Red Bay a while ago while we were both undergoing warranty service on our new coaches. Really nice people. While in Gila Bend, we all visited the Space Age Restaurant for lunch. It's a totally retro place with lots of shiny metal booths, and a pretty good menu of burgers and other sandwiches. While there, I met a new friend . . .
One final place we visited was the Casa Grande Ruins. About 700 years ago, indigenous people inhabited an area about 40 miles southwest of where the city of Casa Grande now stands. These people lived, farmed and built amazing structures – some of which were 3 stories high! – in which to live. Their history is short (they moved away suddenly and without much notice), but they left a legacy that is still being investigated today.
A couple of visits with my brother, Doug, and it was time to head back east.
Next: The interesting trek back to Georgia . . .
We're Dave and Barbara Richard, and we're planning the ultimate retirement experience - travel the U.S. and Canada in style in a Tiffin Open Road 36LA Class A motor home, play golf and stop at every weird and wacky roadside attraction we can find.