Yosemite Revisited: More Tips, Less Snark

You may recall that I had less than charitable things to say about our visit to Yosemite last July. The park is spectacular; it’s our timing that was all wrong.

Emily “You Can Embroider That Shit on a Toss Pillow” Rohrer

But with summer travel planning season upon us, I thought it might be a good idea to offer up some information that campers might find a little more helpful than my pissy rant of 2016. So here ya go:

If you’ve got your RV pointed toward California this summer for a swing through Yosemite National Park, be aware of three things:

  1. You’ll never forget the scenery,
  2. Unless you’re a photography genius, you won’t be able to capture all that majesty in pixels, and
  3. It’s gonna be crowded — really, really distressingly and disproportionately crowded, to DisneyWorld-esque levels. 1200 square miles is not big enough for all the people, because every single one of them spent significant time, effort, and money to spend part of their summer vacation there, and they are going to have their Experience of a Lifetime, visiting the same top 5 park attractions as you are.

For information on RV camping at Yosemite, click on Visiting Yosemite With an RV, but be aware that even the folks in charge recommend staying outside the park, and shuttling in using public transportation.

From the NPS web site, “Since parking for RVs and trailers is limited in Yosemite, we strongly encourage you to park your RV outside Yosemite and use YARTS to travel into the park if you’re not staying the night in Yosemite.”

If you do want to try to stay in the park, first make sure your RV will fit, and that you can survive without hookups for the duration of your visit. There aren’t any. However, dump stations with fresh water are available at 3 of the 10 RV-accessible campgrounds, and generator use is allowed, but only at posted hours.

Yosemite campground map
(Source: NPS.gov)

It probably goes without saying that you’ll want to make your reservation as far in advance as possible, or, if you’re feeling lucky and adventurous, you can try for a first-come/first-served spot.

When we visited Yosemite last year, we set up The Toad in a private RV park in Lee Vining, CA, which is about 12 miles east of the westernmost entrance at Tioga Pass, and a nearly 2-hour drive to the main visitor’s center in Yosemite Valley. (Be aware that Tioga Pass/Hwy 120 closes from October-May due to snow, so using Lee Vining as your home base is not always a good option.)

Source: Google Maps

We had to visit in the summer because my husband and our younger son were hiking the John Muir Trail, and that’s something you want to accomplish when there’s little or no snow. And if you’re hiking the whole 211-mile thing, like my husband did, you have to go through Yosemite.

But now that we know what the Yosemite crowds are like in the summertime, we will never do that again. Our schedule is no longer bound by school calendars, and we will use that to our advantage by visiting the more popular national parks at off-peak times in the spring and fall.

How bad was it? Imagine crowds of tourists from all over the planet, hollering to each other in umpteen different languages, trying to enjoy the exact same spot you are, stopping to consult their maps right in your path, posing for selfies in front of everything, dealing with children who have obviously just had it, and/or driving slowly with one arm out the window to shoot video that nobody will ever want to view.

Lower Yosemite Falls, and a very small portion of the day’s tourists

By about 2:00 p.m., I was eyeballing the bear lockers in the parking lot. You’re supposed to put your food items in there, rather than leaving them in your car for bears to tear apart while you’re off exploring. But by mid-afternoon, I was ready to take all the food out, and put half the tourists in.

These are bear lockers. Big enough for tourists, yes?

That said, I found the park to be most enjoyable in the early morning hours. If you can get in and get some sight-seeing and hiking done before what seems to be the Witching Hour of 10:00 a.m., you’ll have a lot more space and breathing room to take in and truly appreciate some of the most eye-popping scenery in the country.

And hey, if you’ve only got one day to spend in the park, try this itinerary from Oh, Ranger!, one of my favorite resources. Be warned: everyone with one day to spend is going to be trying to see the same list of attractions as you are.

There will be crowds.

You will need patience.

Good luck!


Author’s note: Portions of this article appeared previously at OwnLessDoMore, and a version of this post is published at Heartland RVs. It is printed here with permission.

Little Beaver, Big Treat: Our Stay at a State Park in Wild Wonderful WV

I grew up in western Maryland, not far from the West Virginia border, and through my teenage sarcasm filter, I interpreted WV’s slogan “Almost Heaven” to really mean “almost nothing.”

I was wrong.

But I was also kind of right.

This is private property near the state park.
It is not a golf course. Or Heaven. Despite appearances to the contrary.

There isn’t a lot by way of big cities in West Virginia, and to a mall-obsessed teenager of the 1980’s, that put the state in a location way further south than Heaven, if you know what I mean.

But through my adult eyes, I can see that it’s because of all that “nothing” that the state feels like a paradise on earth.

Those rural pastures, secluded lakes, winding roads and rolling mountains that I scoffed at as a teen because they were “so middle of nowhere, Mom <eyeroll>” now seem heavenly indeed.

Earlier this year, we looked at the map for our upcoming journey eastward along I-64 from Kentucky (see my review of the Lake Shelby Campground) toward our ultimate destination of Norfolk, VA.

Knowing that we had a few extra days to spend en route, we chose the approximate halfway point of Beckley, WV, as our stopping place. And since we are big fans of state parks, nearby Little Beaver became our home of choice for that week.

Source: Google Maps

We knew from reading independent reviews that the 2-mile drive from the interstate into the campground was narrow, hilly, and curvy — not a favorite for those who drive or tow recreational vehicles!

Our 38’ 5th wheel plus 1-ton dually are almost 60′ long, and I was able to negotiate the road with no issues, just verrrrrry slowly and cautiously. I only made Tim suck in his breath and say “Watch the rear wheels!” one time, so I consider that a success.

And once we were in the park? Oh, the beauty and serenity! During the area’s spring break week in April, the place was surprisingly uncrowded, at least by humans. Which means we were treated to multiple wildlife sightings during our visit, as well as plenty of peace and quiet.

Our campsite: shaded and secluded, just like we like it

The view from the OwnLessDoMore work station did not suck. It’s a wonder I got anything done, really.

Little Beaver Lake

Things to do in the park include fishing, boating, hiking, biking, geocaching, and bird and wildlife watching, and there are also picnic areas, playgrounds, and tent/group camping areas.


Little Beaver State Park: Just the Facts

  • 71 miles southeast of Charleston WV, 180 miles west of Charlottesville VA
  • about 2 miles south of I-64, near Beckley WV
  • GPS coordinates 37.755833, -81.080556
  • 1402 Grandview Road, Beaver WV 25813
  • email: littlebeaversp@wv.gov
  • (304) 763-2494
  • http://littlebeaverstatepark.com
  • 40-foot RV length limit
  • water and 30/50A; some sites are water only; no sewer hook-ups
  • dump station on site
  • bathrooms, showers, laundry
  • limited wifi (accessible at camp store, but not at RV sites; our AT&T cellular data worked well)
  • combination of reservable and first-come/first-served sites
  • no fee to enter park
  • rates for RV sites: $30 for W/E, and $28 for W only. Discounts for senior citizens and veterans.
  • SEASONAL: Campground closes October 31 and reopens on April 1

And hey, while you’re there, you’ll probably drive the 9 miles into Beckley for grocery and supply runs. Don’t miss a meal at the King Tut Drive-In for a true trip down small-town America’s memory lane. Save room for homemade pie and hand spun milk shakes! (Note: closed Wednesdays)

I am a big fan of liver & onions.
There are plenty of other goodies on the menu.
You do you.


Author’s notes:

A version of this post appears at Heartland RVs. It is printed here with permission.

This is an independent review. We received no compensation from Little Beaver State Park or the King Tut Drive-In.

RV Travels: 13 Ways You Know You’re in a Small Texas Town

I have spent almost ten years of my life living in Texas: a four-year stint in college, and nearly six years in my 40’s, due to a military move. My parents, my brother, and his family have lived there for more than two decades, so we’ve visited a lot too.

Plus, although we spend most of the year traveling, San Antonio is still our home base, and our younger son is a second-year physics and math major right up the highway at UT-Austin.

That’s my way of telling you that when it comes to small towns in Texas, I’ve got some familiarity. And after a truck breakdown left us stranded in one of them for two weeks earlier this year, I became an expert on observing the endearing quirks that make these places special.

1. The local tow truck driver doubles back after spotting you on the side of the highway with your hazard lights blinking, figuring you’re going to be his next call anyway. And he is correct.

If you’re gonna travel in an RV, get the best roadside assistance plan you can afford.
You will not regret it.

2. The RV park your 5th wheel is towed to is so new that nobody at the service shop knows the name of it, but they know exactly where it is and that it’s open for business.

The Wagon Yard RV park was nothing fancy, but wow, were we ever glad to have it!

3. You are very thankful that the RV park is new and unheard of because that means it has space available during spring break week in Texas. Every public grade school and university in the state gets the same week off for spring break, which makes last-minute lodging arrangements nearly impossible to obtain.

4. You become celebrities in the grocery store because you got there on bicycles instead of in a pickup truck. The clerk, upon hearing that our truck was in the shop, felt so sorry for us that she even helped load the groceries into our backpacks.

Of course we were all ready to go when we discovered the tires were flat.
Why wouldn’t they be?

5. All heads turn when someone walks through the door of the dinette.

6. And when that someone is a big ol’ farmer wearing denim overalls and work boots, the waitress greets him with a smile and a 2-syllable “Hey,” to which the farmer replies simply, “Sweet tea.” And the waitress sets it on the table by the time his fanny hits the chair.

7. Every store on Main Street, whether it’s open for business or appears to have been vacant for 20 years, bears a sign supporting the local high school team, with the obligatory incorrect apostrophe. “Go Zebra’s!”

8. Other than the dinette mentioned above, socializing occurs in one of two places: under the Friday night lights or in the Sunday morning pews.

9. You’re never allowed to forget which state you’re in here. Never. Not even in the bathroom.

Jesus ‘n’ Texas, y’all.

10. Your camera roll boasts photos of a BBQ plate, wildflowers, a road runner, and a spray-painted sign for a tractor pull — all from the same day.

11. And the tractor pull causes a significant uptick in traffic.

12. Being located right between two airports means nothing, as the options lack anything resembling a terminal or even planes. They are grass strips suitable for landing crop dusters, and there are cows grazing on them.

Someone out there in the country has a good sense of humor.
(source: Apple Maps)

13. Related: more of your neighbors have four legs than two.

The RV park where we stayed for that little “detour” was in fact 8 miles from one small town we visited (Grandview), and 10 miles from the other (Cleburne).

Of all the places for the truck to break down? That was the middle-of-nowheriest.


Author’s note: a version of this post appears at Heartland RVs. It is printed here with permission

Psssst. We Found a Hidden Camping Gem in KY. Don’t Tell Anyone!

If you’re traveling across Kentucky on I-64, looking for a place to rest for a night or two, check out Lake Shelby Campground, just north of Shelbyville, KY. It might not be for the faint of heart, but it definitely has a lot of heart.

source: Google

The first thing you need to know is that it is small (10 RV spots; tent camping available), and access is along a narrow county park road. We made it in with The Toad, our 38’ 5th wheel plus bike rack on the rear, but it was tight. I would not recommend this park for RVs longer than ours.

The second thing you need to know is that hookups are water and 30-amp electric only, which rules out a lengthy stay for some folks. There is a dump station on the access road into the park.

Third thing? $20/night, cash and checks only. Be prepared with the correct payment method.

Oh, and there’s no wifi. Be prepared for that too. Our AT&T calling and data worked fine.

Plus, the spaces are set really close together, so you’ll get to know your neighbors.

That’s us, second from the right, with the BFT parked directly across the lot.

But…

We stayed there for a week and loved it! Are you now wondering why?

Because we were willing to accept all the things above, which others might consider shortcomings, as perfectly acceptable trade-offs for a spot that backed right up to a lake, with serene views, easy access to a paved urban trail and a 9-hole golf course, and a friendly, down home feel that we very much appreciated.

The RV pads are located along one side of the parking lot at this combined city/county park, so local folks come and go all day to take advantage of the playground, boat launch, nature trails, boat rental, fishing holes, bird watching opportunities, and picnic areas.

However, the park closes at dusk, which means that all the non-campers leave the premises for the night. Even though we were there during Spring Break week and the following weekend, we heard far more noise from the resident flock of geese than we did from any families that had come to enjoy a day of outdoor activities.

There are a couple of communal fire pits and picnic tables for campers to share, and there’s also a bath house that’s a little on the rustic side. We did not make use of the showers ourselves as we prefer our own, but other reviews indicate that they are clean and that hot water is plentiful.

There are also tent sites for those who want to get even closer to nature on their visit to this park, which is not just family friendly but pet friendly too.

You know what this is, right?
It’s an Old Kentucky Home.
~giggle~

I think you’ll see from my photos why we found Lake Shelby Campground so enjoyable. We stayed there for the first week of April 2017, and learned that springtime in central Kentucky is almost too beautiful for words.


Lake Shelby Campground: Just the Facts

  • 35 miles east of Louisville, 25 miles west of Frankfort
  • about 9 miles north of I-64
  • GPS coordinates 38.232395, -85.220067
  • 14333 Burks Branch Road, Shelbyville KY 40065
  • (502) 633-5069
  • water and 30A electric only, dump station on site
  • bathrooms and showers
  • NO wifi or laundry
  • Campground website

Author’s notes:

A version of this post appears at Heartland RVs. It is printed here with permission.

This is an independent review, and we received no compensation from Lake Shelby Campground.

WheRVe we been? Our travels, 1st quarter(-ish) 2017

Here’s a summary of our first quarter travels for 2017, mapped with a little help from Google. RV miles traveled: about 3200.

Source: maps.google.com

Pahrump, NV, Jan. 1-19: We welcomed the new year with our friends, Dan & Lisa of Always On Liberty, met up for some hiking with a pal I hadn’t seen since high school, and then I joined my FriendFest girls in Vegas for our 22nd (almost) annual gathering. No boys allowed, unless they are bringing us drinks with umbrellas in them.

Quartzsite, AZ, Jan. 19-30: More fun with Always On Liberty at the Xscapers convergence, where we successfully and happily survived 12 days of RV living without benefit of hookups, and made our first YouTube appearances in videos produced by Spot the Scotts and RV Love.

Yuma, AZ, Jan. 30 – Feb. 1: A two-night rest on the border, in a casino parking lot. Lots of RV’ers love Yuma. To us? Meh.

Fort Huachuca, AZ, Feb. 1-4: Checked out the wide open spaces of this Army base for a few days en route to San Antonio. Nice little fam camp, great area and cooperative weather for my fitness walks.

Kerrville, TX, Feb. 6-9: We love the peace and quiet of Kerrville-Schreiner Park, and the fact that close friends live there in their RV. They are also handy and helpful: Jay spent many hours working with Tim to install disc brakes on The Toad.

San Antonio, TX, Feb. 9 – March 10: Back to our home base for biannual family visits and medical appointments, plus rodeo and National Margarita Day fun with Always On Liberty (again!). And from there we flew to Mexico for a most relaxing 10-day visit with Tim’s folks in Los Cabos.

Grandview, TX, March 10-25: Not a planned stop, but we were there for two weeks after the BFT’s fuel pump shit the bed on I-35. One entirely new fuel system and a freshly painted RV interior later (because we had that kind of time), we got back on the road to…

Elkhart, IN, March 26 – April 1: Because we were in fact on the way there to have the RV repaired, when the truck died. Irony for the win! Got some welding reinforced on both The Toad and on Mary Jo, our mascot metal chicken. Those guys at Heartland RVs really went the extra mile for us!

Photo credit: Hearland RVs service department

Fort Knox, KY, April 1-2: We needed a place to sit between IN and a scheduled visit in VA, and KY looked good. But there was no cell service and barely useable wifi at the fam camp, so we rolled away after only one night. With both a new truck purchase and our income taxes in the works, we really couldn’t go without connectivity.

You know you’re washing your vehicle on an Army base when…

Shelbyville, KY, April 2-10: Here we sit for a few more days at a humble little municipal park, enjoying the beauty of springtime in the south. Well, except for that day there were hail storms and tornadoes. And except for the past two mornings when we’ve awakened to temps in the 30’s. But hey, the grass is really green!

Coming up next: a week or so in WV before meeting our older son and his girlfriend for a few days of reminiscing in Norfolk, VA, one of our old hometowns. Can’t wait to get my arms around those kids!