Harlan Lake Campground, Nebraska

I’m sure all of you Eastern RV campers know about these, but for those of us who have always camped in the West, Corps of Engineer (COE) campgrounds are a pleasant discovery.

We stayed 10 nights at Belton Lake, a COE site in Texas, where we had 120-volt power and a city water hookup along with flush toilets and free hot showers. It only cost $11 a night with our government geezer pass.

Tonight on our way home, we’re at Harlan County Lake, a COE campsite in Nebraska (we’re boycotting Kansas). Because it’s low season, an electric-water site is only $5 for us geezers with free hot showers and flush toilets.

Of course, there’s no soap in the restrooms.

Where’s the soap?

 What’s so difficult about equipping a flush-toilet bathroom?

There are four key components for a decent campground restroom, the most obvious of which is that it needs clean, usable toilets/urinals. Beyond that,there should be a sink or two for washing hands, a soap dispenser for cleaning them and either paper towels or a blow dryer for drying them off.

We’re camping in a string of Mid-America state and national parks, paying $25-35 a night partially for the privilege of having flush-toilet restrooms. At Hot Springs National Park (Arkansas) and Lake Bistineau State Park (Louisiana) there were no soap dispensers. At Petit Jean State Park (Arkansas) we found soap but nary a towel dispenser nor blow dryer.

I was thrilled to find that Table Rock State Park (Missouri) seemingly got it right. The men’s side had twin toilets, urinals and sinks with a soap dispenser. I happily used the facilities, washed my hands with foamy soap and walked over to the blow dryer.

I pushed the button. Nothing happened. It was broken.

Belton Lake, Texas

I hate wind. I especially hate it when A-frame camping.

A stiff breeze, they say, can catch a half-opened roof panel and like the spinnaker on a sailboat, send it flying. Now, we’ve never had that happen to us, but according to the folks who sell aftermarket wind kits, it could.

The breeze wasn’t that bad when we packed up after a pleasant stay at our Chickasaw National Recreation Area campsite. We collapsed the roof and headed on our way south toward Belton Lake, halfway between Waco and Austin, Texas.

Rule number one of wind on the road. It will always be a headwind, or more correctly, a slightly angled wind blowing from both the front and side. The trailer towed like a duckling imprinted on its mother while the Xterra got belted around like a woozy prize fighter in the tenth round.

“Not much shade in campsite #1,” the gate agent advised us as we checked into the Live Oak Ridge Campground. Not only was there not much shade, there was nary a tree, bush or tall blade of grass to block the wind.

“This is going to be fun,” Dianne suggested as we set about setting up the trailer.

“No, it’s not,” I corrected her.

We leveled the trailer and prepared to open it up. About then, the wind relented and like a Viagra user before hour number four, the stiff breeze went limp. We got the trailer up without the roof blowing back to Dallas.

We tightened down our aftermarket wind kit and celebrated our feat the way all good campers do. With a beer.

Lake Meredith National Recreation Area, Texas

I’ve discovered something I never thought I would ever find again. Free camping in a National Park-administered site.

Amarillo was about the right distance for the first day’s drive on our trip to Belton, Texas. Camping choices around there included a commercial RV park in town, Palo Duro Canyon State Park south of town or the Lake Meredith National Recreation Area north of town.

Commercial campgrounds have less appeal to me than bunking with relatives and Palo Duro is a place where one needs to spend multiple days. That left Lake Meredith.

Now, Lake Meredith is not a lake, it’s a reservoir, and the land around it is administered by the National Park Service. They’ve built several campgrounds, the largest of which is a 51-site loop atop the canyon rim with a good view of the earthen dam. Each site has one or two new picnic tables shaded by canopies.

There’s a trailer dump station with fresh water. The restroom building features four individual, any gender you want to be private units with flush toilets and free showers. They were clean and well stocked with toilet paper.

Fortunately, it wasn’t crowded during our visit. Fifty-one camping families sharing four toilets with showers could lead to some soiled situations.

So, there we were, drinking wine while watching the sun set over the reservoir and realizing that we were getting all this for simply the money we pay in taxes.

Packing

With the possible exception of a TSA groping, the worst part of travel is the packing.

It’s a short trip – just 25 days in Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Arkansas, Missouri and since I’m boycotting Kansas over their requirement to provide a Social Security number for state park camping, we’ll probably come back via Nebraska.

I spent most of yesterday prepping the trailer and all of today packing it full of what we’ll need to survive nearly four weeks in full-hookup wilderness.

Oh how I long for those glory days of yesteryear when Dianne and I spent three months Eurailing our way across Europe (where else would you Eurail?) with only small carry-on backpacks that could truly fit under the seat in front of us.

Non-camping cabin fever

An article that recently appeared on the BBC says that going out on a camping trip helps to reset the body clock.  My body clock definitely needs resetting.

I haven’t spent a night in the wild since October 3rd when we returned from a month at Devil’s Tower and the Dakotas. Since then, I’ve been stuck at home, recovering from rotator cuff surgery and pounding out assignments. The closest I’ve come to the great outdoors is prepping travel pix for stock agency submission.

Fortunately, that will all come to an end on March 20 when Dianne and I depart for a 25-day camping journey to Texas with stops in Oklahoma, Louisiana, Arkansas, Missouri and Kansas.

Unfortunately, that trip’s still 40+ days away. Until then I’ll just have to deal with a body clock that’s badly out-of-sync.