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 Don't Ignore the National Parks for Great Camping
and don't be afraid to dry camp.
So often we hear people state as fact that big rigs and national parks just don't go together. That is far from the truth. For one thing there are some national parks that have full hook up sites for all sizes of RVs. We have stayed in some of them. Big Bend National Park in southwestern Texas is one. Fishing Bridge in Yellowstone is another. In both of those cases though, the campground isn't much more than a parking lot. The sites are close together and there are no trees, picnic tables or anything to make the site pretty, but you will have all the comforts of your home and yet be in a national park.

We made the mistake of avoiding national parks after we purchased the American Dream. We also thought that we would be too big to fit in. Right after we got the Dream we took two grandsons on a tour of the five national parks in southern Utah. We made reservations at commercial campgrounds outside of the parks because we figured we couldn't fit in, but when we drove into the parks from our commercial campgrounds, we looked at the park campgrounds and realized that we really would fit. We made a promise to check the national park campgrounds first when heading to a national park. It just stands to reason that space in commercial campgrounds is worth money. It makes sense to put sites close together. In public parks they aren't in the business of making money off of their space; instead their goal is to provide a pleasant camping experience while preserving the resource.

Our recent trip with our grandson, Erkki, gave us the opportunity to camp in two of our crowned jewels. We planned to spend a few days at the Grand Canyon and about 5 days at Zion National Park. I went to the National Park Service web site (www.nps.gov) and made reservations for both parks. They list how many sites can accommodate each different sized RV. I was happy to see that they had plenty that would hold our 40 foot motorhome. The Mather Campground at the Grand Canyon did not have any hookups and I mentioned that on our What's New page. Someone emailed me that there was a full hook up campground in the Grand Canyon right next to the one we had reserved, but I emailed her back that we preferred the no hook up site. After all we have a self contained RV and can do fine for a week without any help. 

When we got to the Grand Canyon we were amazed at the sites. Ours, for example, was a pull through site, but not the kind you get in most campgrounds. This one was a large C shaped driveway on the right along the campground loop road. Once parked we couldn't believe the size of our site. It was huge. Ron estimated that it was 100 feet wide and 200 feet deep. But there was no one behind us or beside us. When we opened our door, we had what looked like the whole park to ourselves.


Our site even went back farther than what is pictured, but if I went back further, the motorhome would have been a mere dot in the picture.

By contrast here is what the Trailer Park at the Grand Canyon looks like. 

That little drive way is all you get for living space.

Out of curiosity we drove through the trailer park in the national park and noticed right off that it was nearly full. The sites were just narrow driveways simular to commercial campgrounds and their rate was the same as other commercial campgrounds in the area. We were really happy to have our open area. Remember though, we had no hook ups and the trailer park did. So we lived a little differently. We enjoyed the campfire until late in the night rather than watch TV. We listened to the raven's cry and tried to name the stars instead. We didn't shower every day but took sponge baths instead. Most agree that we Americans bathe too much anyway. And we cooked outside on the Coleman stove and even did dishes in a dishpan outside to keep from filling up the gray water tank. Actually we didn't need to conserve that much but rather made a game out of it. We are old campers anyway. The camping fee for our site was only $8.00 per night with our Golden Age passport. At the trailer park it was much more.


Ron and I doing dishes at the picnic table. 
At Zion National Park our site was right on the Virgin River. Again it was a C shaped pull through but not quite as large as the one at the Grand Canyon. But the sites had 50 amp electrical hook ups. We did the dishes inside and cooked inside at Zion even though we were there for five days. These RVs are really made to do just fine for a week. We conserved water by again doing sponge baths every other day. Even with the good electricity our camping fee was still $8.00 per night.
The best part about being in both campgrounds was that we were within walking distance to the evening ranger programs which are held in the campground amphitheater. Erkki especially enjoyed those programs and we all learned a lot. There is just something special about camping in our beautiful national parks. 

On our way north from our home in Gold Canyon we stopped at Canyon de Chelly National Monument and camped in that campground. Again there were plenty of those C shaped drive throughs for us to fit into and there were no hook ups, but the very best part was there was no charge. Because this national monument is in the Navajo Nation, they can't very well charge. It was a beautiful place to spend an afternoon and evening and we were able to drive the scenic drive in our little truck. It was really fun.


At Canyon deChelly National Monument
I would like to give any of  you who have time an assignment or challenge. Please go to the national park web site (www.nps.gov) and spend a little time checking out the campsites available at as many national parks as you have time to check. See how many can hold a 40 foot motorhome. I would do it but it isn't that easy to be on line long enough to do the assignment. I would really appreciate a report on this so I could add a post script at the end of this article and help others know the magic of our wonderful parks. Use the email address below to send me the results of your investigation. Happy camping. 

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