Category Archives: Strange Camping Spots

Some Strange Campsites, or, “A Place to Rest for the Night”

When we search for each next adventure on the road, we don’t always make it to a destination in one day’s driving. We find ourselves camping somewhere in between now and then.  Our “100 mile per day” goal also places us where there are no National, State, Private, or official campgrounds.  We’ve tried the Walmart invitation, parked in roadside pull-offs, dirt roads and closed parking lots at times.

The first non-traditional spot was high above Trout Run in PA.  Right along the route we used to travel going to McIntyre Mountain (a coal town, mountain bike playground we found in our early bike-trip days), we saw the exit, drove away from the highway on a small paved road.  Quickly turning to gravel, the road offered no room to turn the camper around. Especially as this was really the second day we had towed it with the 4Runner and David still lacked skills.  We switch-backed incredibly to the top of a mountain where we thought we’d be isolated.  Instead we saw the lights of at least 3 homes in the stark night.

As we nearly gave up, we spied the gravel apron of a “new-home” construction site.  David managed to jack-knife his way in and we discovered a new use for our foil-bubble-foil window squares. Originally conceived as heat conserving additions, we realized they also offered a measure of stealth as they blocked our interior lights from leaking out and betraying our location.

It feels like campsites such as that one require us to get up early and drive away before we are spotted!

Before the trip, David had planned to keep track of how many “camping” sites we were asked to leave. Well, 135+ days in and we’ve never been booted off a site! We must be better at stealth camping than we thought. Or, no one’s paying attention anyway!

Here’s a pictorial history of some of the notable campsites where the Tramper has slept:

Birth of the Tramper! She lived here for who knows how long before David found her.

Birth of the Tramper! She lived here in Delaware for who knows how long before David found and refurbished her.

A pre-Voyage test run to Belleayre Mountain in NY. Pulled by the Subaru, the Tramper slept in the parking lot.

A pre-Voyage test run to Belleayre Mountain in NY. Pulled by the Subaru, the Tramper slept in the parking lot.

Camp Muckleratz in Lykens, PA

Camp Muckleratz in Lykens, PA

In Huntley's driveway in Stowe, VT

In cousin Huntley’s driveway in Stowe, VT

Across the street from my brother's house in Sidney, ME

Across the street from my brother’s house in Sidney, ME. A friendly neighbor let us park on his lawn.

In cousin Gordon's driveway, Frederickton, NB

In cousin Gordon’s driveway, Frederickton, NB

At a campsite along the Machias River in Maine

At a campsite along the Machias River in Maine. Beautiful! One of our fav campsites and, as a bonus, no one else was there!

At Baxter State Park, ME. The small silver dot in the distance is the Tramper.

At Baxter State Park, ME. The small silver dot in the distance is the Tramper.

In an "illegal" spot in PRL in Maine. We realized, in the morning, that it was someone's driveway.

In an “unofficial” spot in Public Reserve Land in Maine. We realized, in the morning, that it was someone’s driveway.

Walmart parking lot in Maine. First of a half-dozen Walmart stops for the night

Walmart parking lot in Bangor, Maine. First of a half-dozen Walmart stops.

In Acadia National Park, ME

In Acadia National Park, ME

In an abandoned Burger King lot, somewhere in Massachusetts. We will soon get Panera Bread coffee across the street

In an abandoned Burger King lot, somewhere in Massachusetts. We will soon get coffee at the Panera Bread, seen across the street

Creek View campground with Jason & Blue, Rosendale, NY

Creek View campground with new friends Jason & Blue, Rosendale, NY

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Hurricane Sandy evacuation center, Rosendale, NY. This is when the 4Runner was in the shop. Our new friend Jason very nicely towed us to this safe spot.

On a town street in Keene, NH

On a town street in Keene, NH during Pumpkinfest

In our own driveway, in Baltimore. No room in the house, so we slept in the Tramper in our driveway!

In our own driveway, in Baltimore. No room in the house, so we slept in the Tramper in our driveway!

In an abandoned school parking lot in Waynesboro, VA

In an abandoned school parking lot in Waynesboro, VA

Crabtree Falls campground, Crabtree Falls, VA

Crabtree Falls campground, Crabtree Falls, VA with owner Dave; a gracious host if there ever was one!

Richard's front yard, Culpepper, VA

Friend Richard’s front yard, Culpepper, VA

Miss Pauline's front yard, Nontahela Gorge, NC. She owns a closed campground across the street. We weren't sure it was closed so we called her. She offered us her front yard instead!

Miss Pauline’s front yard, Nantahala Gorge, NC. She owns a closed campground across the street. We weren’t sure it was closed so we called her. She offered us her front yard instead!

In friends Bob & Joann's back yard, Greensboro, NC

In friends Bob & Joann’s back yard, Greensboro, NC

Ft Wilderness RV Park, NC

Ft Wilderness RV Park, NC. Not a favorite, for sure. But, it gave us a place to rest for the night

Black Rock Mountain State Park, GA

Black Rock Mountain State Park, GA. We were given a Thanksgiving feast by the camp hosts!

Oconee National Forest, GA

At the end of a long dirt road in Oconee National Forest, GA. A hunter drove up and asked where we would be hunting!? His name was John. His friendly ways made us a little less concerned about hunters.

Georgia International Horse Park, site of 1996 Olympic Mountain Bike events

Georgia International Horse Park, site of 1996 Olympic Mountain Bike events

Jekyll Island campground, GA

Jekyll Island campground, GA. Very, very nice people in charge. But, could easily win for the worst tasting water!

Ocala State Forest, FL

Ocala State Forest, FL. Nope, not a Tramper pic, but, I had to show David in repose. Doesn’t happen very often during waking hours!

On Alex's street, Deland, FL I got to play with Zealen!!

On Alex’s street, Deland, FL I got to play with Zealen!!

Appalachicola State Forest, FL

Appalachicola State Forest, FL. We met some very laid back hunters here

Marathon Cemetery, Marathon, TX. Our first night in a cemetery. So quiet!

Marathon Cemetery, Marathon, TX. Our first night in a cemetery. So quiet!

In the Chisos Basin in Big Bend National Park, TX, celebrating Christmas Eve

In the Chisos Basin in Big Bend National Park, TX, celebrating Christmas Eve

Christmas Day in Big Bend State Park by the Rio Grande

Christmas Day in Big Bend State Park by the Rio Grande

Cop-sanctioned Picnic Area in David Mountains, TX. Really. He suggested it!

Cop-sanctioned Picnic Area in Davis Mountains, TX. Really. He suggested it!

Vaughn, NM truckstop. First snow of the winter season.

Vaughn, NM truckstop. First snow of the winter season.

Carson National Forest, NM. Beautiful big, wide open spot

Carson National Forest, NM. Beautiful big, wide open spot

Our current campsite, near Salida, CO. Very close to Monarch Mountain ski resort!

Our current campsite, near Salida, CO. Very close to Monarch Mountain ski resort!

Sometimes, it's sunny and beautiful but we always hope for more snow!

Our current camping spot. Sometimes, it’s a ‘bluebird’ day in Salida but we always hope for more snow!

– Jane & David

DAYS 107 to 110 – The Push Through New Mexico

Winter is here in the West! So, New Mexico was, unfortunately given short shrift.

It’s a beautiful state. We’ve visited before, about 16 years ago with Olivia. We loved the Zuni Mountains, Jemez Springs and Santa Fe. It was in New Mexico 16 years ago that we visited the Acoma Pueblo Indian Reservation and witnessed an awesome Powwow.

But, because we worried a bit about getting into our long-term campground at Monarch Mountain in the snow, we hightailed it through the Land of Enchantment.

Our journey north took three nights of sleeping in New Mexico. Our campsites varied widely. The first night was in a good old Walmart parking lot in the town of Carlsbad.

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The night of 12/30, was much more interesting. We drove into the tiny town of Vaughn and stopped for gas. Turns out, we decided to spend the night in the gas station’s vast parking lot.

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During the night, the wind kicked up and roared across the desert, bringing a few inches of fine, dry snow with it.

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It was somewhat of a noisy night, considering the wind and the nearby train tracks! Lucky for us, they weren’t using the train horn.

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Tumbleweed! Lined up on the fences after a windy night.

The next night, on New Year’s Eve, we found ourselves in Carson National Forest not too far from Taos, NM.

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Carson National Forest

Calling this huge area a forest, in the middle of the big empty desert, was a stretch. There were not many trees! We pulled off the two-lane highway down an unpaved forest road.

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It was maybe one of the coolest free spots we’ve camped in! Away from the highway, sheltered by a couple of big juniper bushes, we rang in the New Year.

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The Rocky Mountains get bigger on the road to Monarch, Colorado.

The Rocky Mountains get bigger on the road to Monarch, Colorado.

We had about an hour of daylight left on New Year’s Day when we pulled into the Heart of the Rockies campground, just a few miles down the valley from Monarch ski mountain. We were finally in Colorado!

Here, the Tramper and Marfa, the 4Runner, will get a break from each other for the next month. We settled in, cozy in the Tramper that David made.

And now, let the skiing begin!

– Jane

DAY 105 – 12/28/2012 McDonald Observatory in the Davis Mountains of Texas

We found out a couple of months ago that many scientific celestial observatories are open to the public on Friday and Saturday nights. How could I have lived my whole life never knowing that fact? Oh, well, I know now. So, I’d been trying to coordinate an observatory night into our schedule.

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On our last night in Texas, we visited the McDonald Observatory in the far west. www.mcdonalobservatory.org It’s part of the University of Texas, Austin and is used to research the chemistry of stars and planets. White dwarf stars, the composition of gas clouds in space and supergiant stars, among other things. The two immense telescopes are used for research. We were going to look through the smaller, though still awesome to us, telescopes.

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We signed up for a Star Party. Sounds good doesn’t it? McDonald Observatory is at the top of a mountain.

Not our photo. We were driving up the other side of the mountain.

Not our photo. We were driving up the other side of the mountain. And it was getting dark.

So, in consideration for our fellow attendees, we started on the road up an hour early, so as not to cause a mile-long traffic jam behind our slow-moving rig. Marfa (we finally named our 4Runner) did a good job dragging the Tramper up the mountain as the sun set.

We suited up for the outdoor Star Party. The weather was unseasonably cold. Lows in the teens!

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We had a large, jolly group on this Christmas break weekend. Ten more folks and we would have had a record crowd! We sat in an outdoor amphitheater. The nearly full moon was the brightest light for miles around. Low, red lights were all the artificial light there was on the mountain. Even the surrounding towns had ordinances forbidding excessive outdoor lighting.

So, even though the shining moon masked lots of stars that night, we still had a beautiful show above us.

The Star Party began with a lecture in the amphitheater.

This isn't our photo. It comes from the McDonald Obs. website. We just don't have the skills to take a pic like this!

This isn’t our photo. It comes from the McDonald Obs. website. We just don’t have the skills to take a pic like this!

The astronomer giving the tour of the sky had a green laser pointer that seemed to extend a line all the way up to the individual star he was talking about! He pointed out Jupiter and the zodiac constellations. I have imagined that I saw red and orange in Orion’s left shoulder this whole trip as we gazed at night into starlit skies in the wild places. I got validated at the Star Party. Betelgeuse is actually a red supergiant, with visible color!

Again, not our photo. This one is from the Sol Company website "Betelgeuse"

Again, not our photo. This one is from the Sol Company website “Betelgeuse”

Belatrix is his right shoulder. Also, I finally saw Polaris, the North Star.

This one is from Instructables.com. It shows what we learned, that the North Star is constant, while the other constellations "rotate" around it.

This one is from Instructables.com. It shows what we learned, that the North Star is constant, while the other constellations “rotate” around it.

After the lecture, we went around to ten different telescopes focused on amazing things in the sky. We saw Jupiter’s bands of clouds.

(not our photo)

(not our photo)

We saw four of Jupiter’s most visible moons. Io, Callisto, Ganymede and Europa.

Jupiter moons

We saw the surface of the moon.

NOAA photo

NOAA photo

As it was not quite full, we saw a profile of one surface.

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Wikipedia photo

We saw the Andromeda galaxy, the closest galaxy outside out Milky Way.

Although we couldn't photograph what we saw, we tried to find photos that most closely resembled what we viewed through the telescopes

Although we couldn’t photograph what we saw, we tried to find photos that most closely resembled what we viewed through the telescopes

The Orion nebula.

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After we had seen our fill, we went back to the Tramper for the drive down the other side of the mountain. We met a UT policeman who drove by to tell us he liked our trailer. He was the only security for miles around and he suggested a picnic spot off the mountain road where we could camp for the night. Not what we expected! Security usually makes sure that no one camps where they’re not supposed to, not encourage us to do it!

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It was a lovely spot. The next morning, we hit the road, bound for New Mexico.

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On this highway across the desert, within three minutes of each other, we saw a coyote and we saw a road runner! No joke! It was coincidentally ironic. (Can you use those two words together?). Maybe they were engaged in the classic cartoon battle?!

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– Jane

Sleeping With The Dead… 12/22/2012

Another first for us: we spent the night parked in a cemetery! And it wasn’t at all creepy. It was quiet and dark, far enough from the main road. Full of people, yet no one bothered us.

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Our destination was Big Bend National Park. We stopped in the tiny town of Marathon, TX. It was late. Sunset was an hour ago. We saw the sign pointing to the town cemetery and decided to take the advice of the RVer we met back in Sopchoppy, FL.

Nervous at first, we parked and put up the foil/bubble/foil window shades David made to block our interior lights (and for warmth in the winter). A dog barked in the distance but soon settled back down. Headlights on the road far outside the cemetery came and then went, passing us by.

Soon, in the cocoon of the Tramper, we settled in and slept that night like the residents all around us.

Sunrise view from the cemetery

Sunrise view from the cemetery

We vowed to do this again. It’s free and, so far, easy. The downside? Well, it is “stealth” camping so I don’t get to indulge my interest in examining old headstones.

In the morning, we packed up and drove out of the cemetery at first light.

Luckily, Marathon recently got Internet. We stopped at a yummy cafe for breakfast and WiFi before hitting the road again, bound for Big Bend.

Cafe in Marathon, TX

Cafe in Marathon, TX

David tried a Chicken Fried Steak for breakfast!

David tried a Chicken Fried Steak for breakfast!

– Jane

DAY 55, 11/8/2012 Back on the ROAD!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe are back in our groove.  The truck runs well, better than before.  The oil is as clean as honey having been changed 4 times now since our August purchase.  First was at home upon my greeting it to our fleet.  Next, was “early” at about 800 miles in Maine as a rinse-out treat still being a new vehicle to me.  Then because the head gasket blew, #3 was in Rosendale, NY.  Finally I did one extra in Towson to rinse out any water or antifreeze contaminants following the NY repair.  Silly me, now it can be at each 3000miles; but I sure hope its all enough…

More importantly here we go!  We drove South.  Southwest really, right through Harpers Ferry and down parallel to Skyline Drive.

A fearsome shark(dinosaur?). Don't worry, he's behind a fence.

A fearsome shark(dinosaur?). Don’t worry, he’s behind a fence.

Near Front Royal we turn South, but first a trip to Dinosaur Land.

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A gaping dinosaur convinces Jane to stop for a photo

We might have driven up and into that beautiful ridge had we not delayed so long in the New York Fall.  Leaves are more abundant here, yet still brown-grey is a dominant color.  We see temperatures in the 60’s in Central VA and North Carolina, so Jane will be buffeted by gentle weather soon.

We detoured to a very nice county park to mountain bike with an old friend at Preddy Creek, VA.  The trails were well sculpted, following terrain lines around and lulling our ride at near the same elevation in a gentle 3-4 mile loop.  It is a multi-use example of how trails can support differing users and remain sustainable while still being great fun.  The older original trails there are noticeably different, some slashed by 4 wheelers with no regard to drainage.  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThese showed signs of erosion and will soon be addressed by the Mt bike volunteers.  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAll cities and counties could take a lesson from here or Franklin Falls, NH where bikers see trail work as part of the investment in their sport and health.

The end of the day prompted our next question: Where should we camp?  we drove South until fatigue was overwhelmed by better sense.  Stop soon!  Drove into Misty Mountain Campground where after hours check-in could have put us next to several “Rock-Star buses” (Big RV’s) for $34 per night.  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERANot this time.  We don’t need water, electric or anything other than sleep.  We floated down from Rockfish Gap toward Waynesboro and landed in an abandoned school parking lot.

The school is available for lease or sale if you have an interest in this area.  We slept great.  I loved the first two or three trains that blasted their presence in the mid-night chill.  Somehow the other four or five were less romantic.  I did sleep very well through 7:30 and suggested this WiFi breakfast at Big Apple Bagels.

Preddy Creek trails

Preddy Creek trails

Oddly lost was the Big Apple frosty sales pitch; our cashier was warmly Southern as he greeted and oriented us as first time guests.  Even giving us the complimentary mini muffins with a true listening smile.

Jane and I find ourselves right back in the groove wondering and asking locals; where should we go tomorrow?

– David

 

 

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We "camp" at an abandoned school

We “camp” at an abandoned school