RV Nation


We started the list on Interstate 80, somewhere east of Lovelock but most definitely before the blue-dome skies and dun hills around Dunphy. We passed them, one by one. Dutch Star. The Manor. Wanderer Wagon. The Contessa. The drivers looked down at us while their tailpipes coughed black. Southwind. Four Winds. Trade Winds. Sea Breeze. Lisa and I were on a road trip from San Francisco to Salt Lake City to meet another friend, then head down south to Bryce, maybe hit Escalante for a few nights down in Coyote Gulch, then north toward Capitol Reef to sleep on rocks and rehydrate powdered hummus on the trail and wend down trails with names like Muley Twist. She'd just started paperwork to divorce her husband, and had three more weeks before moving to Mongolia to live in a Peace Corps ger. My magazine job had been relocated to Birmingham, Ala., and hell if I was going with it. My severance; her itchy feet; a 1992 Honda Accord with a honkin' muffler. All of us wanted to put some miles behind us. 

But we couldn't get away from them. At the Mountain Shadows Campground, in Humboldt Wells, we were the only people camping in a tent. It was a brand new tent, with two doors and a loft made of netting and zipper tabs that glowed in the dark. I felt like I'd just bought a house - a house I could plop anywhere, a house I could roll up and carry on my back. Our clothes were stuffed into internal-frame packs. We cooked mac and cheese on a backcountry stove - the kind you have to pump 45 times - and then strolled the grounds. Surf Side. Allegro Bay. Spinnaker. Sandcastle. The names were splashed across the sides and sterns of motor homes. The sailors were tucked away inside, watching ESPN on satellite TV. If it weren't for the tumbleweed, I might've thought we were at a marina. 

At night, the stars were so bright, so profuse, they looked like one of Pollack's mistakes. They would have been downright mind-blowing - if not for the ambient light cast upon us from our neighbor, Alumascape. I was sure the crickets were chirping, if only I could hear them over the chorus of whining generators. 

As we bee-lined across the Bonneville Salt Flats the next morning, we had numerous wildlife sightings. Dolphin. Coyote. Mallard. The Eagle. Road Bear. We had cute, nonsensical re-spellings that would make Lynne Truss want to kill herself. Carri-Lite. Komfort. Magestic. We even had mythical heroes (Midas). Heroic descriptors, or slightly exploitative First Nations references (Brave, Chieftain). Classic rock stars (Santana). Possible cartoon superheroes (The Road Ranger). Some of the names I just didn't get. Layton. (Was that someone's dad?) Prowler (um, creepy). Concourse. (Aren't you driving an RV to get away from airports?) 

It made me wonder: What sort of experience were these Lances looking for? Sure, we were all out there driving, trying to get away - only these RVers wanted to bring their kitchens and DVD players along. And, OK, I was burning fossil fuels, too - but some motor homes get as little as 6 miles per gallon. There's something just plain disingenuous about driving a 45-foot bus called Mountain Aire. Lisa and I were on the road so we could park at a trailhead, shoulder our burdens and our flasks of Maker's Mark, and spend as many days as possible off the road. I didn't want to judge the woman maneuvering Companion into its parking spot, or get pompous about the man climbing a ladder into the back of Discovery. But seeing America's natural beauty from behind tinted windows, and sleeping on the same kind of mattress as back home, seemed tragic. When it comes to the West, you can argue that it's the journey, not the destination - but not if the journey takes place in a box, and the destination travels with you. 

If you drive a motor home, you're insulated from the rain. Your hips will never lay down to rest on a rock that's sharp enough to poke through your sleeping pad. You won't wake up covered in condensation, you won't drool on the down jacket that doubles as a pillow, and you won't have to pump your stove 45 times. 

You also won't hear that coyote howl. You won't smell the sage and the dust and the sweat on your own clothes. You won't be able to carry your house on your back. 

One early morning, we woke up to pure quiet. No motors. No music. We rolled up our bags and folded up the tent. We boiled water and sat in the dirt, drinking coffee. The desert air was a little bit cool, our backs were a little bit stiff. And then, lumbering up the road, was a familiar vision: a motor home. Silver. Tinted windows. It took us a second to see the name, because the driver was having trouble turning past a big ponderosa. After a few fits and starts, it continued on. The side was emblazoned with these words: Ultimate Freedom.

The author, an editor at Backpacker magazine, lives in Boulder, Colorado, where she writes about the outdoors and breathes the mountain aire.

Oct 16, 2007 06:33 PM

All I can say to Evelyn Spence is, "Been there... Done that!  NOT doing it anymore, so eat your heart out babe!"  Your day will come whenever you get tired of the rocks poking you in the back and the smoke stinging your eyes. IF you have a tent, you have more than WE ever had since our shelter when camping was a tarp tied between two trees! But, after 24 years growing herbs for the wholesale business, bending, weeding, planting, and constantly working so hard that most people, including you, probably can't even imagine, I want to SEE this great country of ours and sleep in my own bed at night.  We are taking the plunge to 'fulltimers"... So...get over yourself! And add this to your list... "Yipee-ti-yi-yae!"

Elaine W.

Washington State

Oct 17, 2007 01:29 PM

I grew up camping with my family. We had a ten-man tent to start (had to have room for the playpen for the baby). We graduated to a haul camper then to an RV. When I moved out on my own, I wanted to still enjoy the outdoors while I traveled. However, I developed a couple of monster diseases that reduced my strength and my mobility. But I refused to be denied, so I bought an RV. It allows me my mobility and accommodates my disabilities. I can stop and rest when I need it. I can take my protection (80 lb. black lab/German Shepard mix) with me without worry (except for snakes). It is small so I can maneuver it by myself. In 2003-2006 I used it to celebrate the bicentennial of the Lewis and Clark Trail. I traveled to Montana and back to North Carolina. [In fact, it was during planning this trip that I discovered the High Country Newsletter.]

Now, when I travel, I don't take a TV or listen to the radio. I don't buy newspapers. I read, and read, and read. Usually, I read histories of the area I'm traveling in. This is a hold over from growing up and camping with my family. We used to say that the world could end and we wouldn't know it because of how we cut ourselves off from everything. So now when I travel, I do the same thing. Just cut myself off from everything and enjoy the sights and sounds of nature around me. And none of this would be possible without my RV.

So when you see those RVs out on the road loaded up with retirees who have worked their entire life so that when they retire they can see this great nation of ours up close an personal, remember the life time of work and sacrifice they did so they could do this. Older people (and some younger) NEED some of those so called luxuries - whether for stiff, swollen joints, or for weakened muscles and organs. 

You just can't get the same feeling about the country as you do driving through it and pulling into a small state park campground every night.

Donna B

Raleigh NC 

Oct 18, 2007 11:18 AM

I was not going to respond to this but E. Spence needs to be more open minded when she hits the road..She needs to talk to the people who are enjoying the outdoors in their own way..The writer needs to learn more about the RV culture and industry and why so many enjoy it..She needs to look beyond the names on RV's and look at the names posted on signs that are displayed at the enterance to many sites. These signs represent the Real Story of people who enjoy the camping experience...I could go on and on about what the RV experience is and a Park System and an Industry that depends on it, but in E's present state of mind she just would not get it..I see my Truck and Trailer as a system, just as E's tent and sleeping bag are a system, to accomplish my goals of enjoying the outdoors..In the end thats what it is all about...

      T. White    Phila, Pa....



Oct 22, 2007 11:55 AM

Ahhh, yes the joys and sublime pleasure of tent camping. Don't get me wrong I like tent camping it's an adventure. Spent my vacation tent camping this year in a state park. And at the moment I'm tent camping in a friend's back yard. Of necessity tho. I lost my job and am kinda homeless.

I will forever remember the weekends or days of vacation trying to find the rock poking me. Everything smelling of smoke and bug spray. Zippers not working or breaking. Every article of clothing being soaking wet from seemingly endless days of rain. Almost every piece of clothing and shoes covered with mud which makes for muddy tents. Of wearing damp clothes and going to bed in damp blankets from dew. Of days with nothing at all to do except read the same thing over and over again because of being stuck in the tent from rain. Packing in food and packing out trash. No fire because of the rain, so no heat, no extra warmth, trying to cook dinner on a small camp stove for a family of 4 or more if a friend or two came along. Of doing dishes in a creek. And using the creek to wash out a change of clothing and hoping it will dry enough in the tent to be wearable. Yep I've tented.

And now at the age of 53, I am so looking forward to getting an RV and becoming a fulltimer. I will keep my small tent and pad of course. I still look forward to getting out in the boonies with my 4x4 or dirt bike. But after I'm done communing with isolation I will have a nice RV to recuperate in. Clean and cozy, dry and warm, lights, a stove to cook on, a hot shower, a toilet that I don't have to create by digging a hole in the ground. And best of all? A soft comfortable bed to ease my tired achy old body on and sleep. 

Open your eyes and mind E. 

An RV is not a destination. It's the means to discovering new destinations. 


Oct 22, 2007 11:56 AM

From what I have seen in campgrounds, many RVers are out enjoying the air, sights and sounds after they have settled the RV down for the night.  I have certainly heard the coyotes howling, and seen the stars so bright you could almost touch them.  Then, I went back in my nice little Family Wagon, Midas, Xplorer, Scotty or Vixen and slept in my own nice comfy bed.  Coffee done with the Melitta drip was enjoyed outside, listening to the birds.   I do agree, generators can make the whole experience somewhat factorylike, but most places do have limited hours for them.  You do it your way, and I will do it my way, and we will both have a great time.

Oct 23, 2007 11:26 AM

Ahhh.  I remember the arrogance of my youth, judging those who navigated the Yachts of the Road.  Feeling superior with my backpacking tents, Therma-rests and all that.  Lovely memories.

Today, at the ripe young age of 55, I still will sleep in a tent in the wilderness -- but only after a hard day of paddling class III rapids and looking forward to doing the same the next day.  The down-side is that I usually will cry myself to sleep because I'm so sore. So please forgive me my self-indulgent purchase of a vehicle that allows me to travel to a national park or refuge, then volunteer for a couple of months while sleeping in my own bed and cooking in my own kitchen.  I won't run my generator in the campground.

When I'm living in my RV, I am not heating or cooling a gigantic house.  I am working to help protect the wild areas you love so much, and to make sure that when you arrive at the campground, your table is scrubbed clean and fire pit and surrounding area are free of the trash the previous tent campers so carelessly left behind.  I build the web site that tells you about the wonderful amenities of a wildlife refuge.  I write the junior ranger workbooks that your children enjoy.

Through the broad windshield of my Class A (think bus) RV, I have a WONDERFUL view of the country through which I travel. When I get tired, I can just pull over and take a nap on my couch. It costs me less to drive my RV with tow-car to my destination than to pay for air fare, car rentals, hotels and restaurants.  And yes, I enjoy my TV and DVD player -- just as you do at home. 

In fact, when I'm on the road, wherever I am, I am at home. 

C U on the road!
State of Utah

Oct 23, 2007 12:20 PM

Great Scott!


What a terribly narrow minded outlook on life!





Oct 24, 2007 04:12 PM

Ms. Spence, hopefully I'll be around to read your future article about why you gave up backpacking and tent camping for the comforts of an RV.  Your time is coming, and I hope that you're intelligent and intuitive enough to recognize the symptoms of becoming elderly.  Others before me have eloquently stated their reasons for deserting the tent form of camping, so I don't need to add to their thoughts.  The only thing you need to remember is for every one of your stories belittling our lifestyle there are dozens of stories in support of our lifestyle. 

For the most part we've all done what you're doing now.  You didn't invent backpacking and tent camping.  I for one, would love to go backpacking again.  To see Yosemite, Utah, Arizona, West Virginia and the outer banks with young eyes and body is only a dream for me and many others.  Forty years ago I did all of what you're doing and then some. The last time I went tent camping was four years ago at Lone Pine and we were evacuated because of a fire. I have my memories.  Presently,  I'm making new memories in my RV for the days when I can't leave my home to persue the great American travel dream.  Don't try and deny me my dreams and don't tarnish my dreams with your cynicism.   Lindy Binns

someone using my name
Lindy Binns
Lindy Binns
Jan 24, 2009 11:22 AM
and there is only one Lindy Binns....someone in your responses choose to use my name...can you check it out - who did it come from? Really.....
Oct 24, 2007 05:39 PM

Dear Ms. Spence, How wonderful that you can experience a little of what I was able to experience 45 years ago, when campgroungs weren't crowded, you could drink from springs and creeks before Guardia was imported from centeral Asia, many places that are now housing developments were wilderness, and we didn't have gortex, lightweight tents, foam mattresses, sleeping bags good to 60 below, freeze dried food,  etc. I however have paid my dues, and taxes,  and now prefer to retreat into my home when it rains, turns cold and windy, or the mosquitos drive me to distraction. When we are out in places like Mono Lake, Death Valley, or some National Forest campground in the shadow of Mt. Adams picking huckleberries, we are usually outside, cooking, visiting, and enjoying the sights, sounds and smells until we are ready for our comfortable memory foam mattress. I can and do still make biscuits in my dutch oven, fry bacon, eggs and pancakes over an open fire with my cast iron griddle and I can still make tin can coffee, even if it doesn't taste like Starbucks.

Oct 25, 2007 05:22 PM

When I read this article I could definitely empathize with We travel and camp to get away from the evils of modern technology (wastefully consumption, air pollution, noise pollution), but unfortunately the RVs add a bit of this back in to the campgrounds and parks. 

For the people who take care of our campgrounds and parks the RV and trailer is also necessary.

I think the underlying message of this article is geared for the people who have skipped the tent/backpacking phase.  It’s letting them know that they are missing out on really being up close and personal with nature and that it is a whole other experience, one that shouldn’t be missed.

The one “ironic RV name” experience that I will never forget is traveling thought the Navajo
reservation in Arizona and seeing an RV named The Intruder.  Very disrespectful.  I know most RV'ers are not like this.

So, we must tolerate the metallic beasts and be thankful that our legs and backs are still good enough to take us places were RVs will never be able to go.

Jeff D

Atlanta, GA

Backpackers vs RV'ers
Robert Laybourn
Robert Laybourn
Mar 15, 2010 06:03 PM
After many years of backpacking and river camping; I find myself at the age of 60 disabled and having to sleep with a CPAP machine and a oxygen concentrator. That really complicates sleeping out under the stars. My disability income doesn't allow the purchase of an RV; let alone stretch to pay the fuel bill of one. I wish I had my youth back and I will camp when hunting or on a wildlife photography trip by sleeping in my Ford Expedition that doesn't get much better mileage than most RV's. Just trying to add one more viewpoint to this discussion.
Oct 29, 2007 11:54 AM

The only qualm I have with RV's is this: people do not know how to drive them! I have been stuck behind an RV going 20MPH below the speed limit too many times to be able to put up with the smoke belchers anymore. I have no problem with people driving an RV as long as they realize that they are not driving a 15 foot long sedan but a 50 foot long bus. Therefore, I suggest that a CDL be required to drive an RV-just like every other vehicle that is that large. All people can then enjoy the open road with a sense of ease and wonder, rather than being trapped behind an RV belching smoke and driving 20MPH through Yellowstone National Park, stopping in the middle of the road to look at every animal. People should have respect for roadways, no matter where they are, and realize that they are a way of getting from point A to point B, and sights should be enjoyed when stopped at a designated rest stop. 

Oct 31, 2007 04:12 PM



I wholeheartedly agree with Ms Spence and she said it beautifully.


Joanna,  Seattle

Nov 06, 2007 11:21 AM

I would like to add a category of names I saw while moving cross-country: the fragile alpine vegetation names like Alpine, Tundra, Taiga, etc.


Oh the irony!



Washington, DC now snowbirdville, AZ

Dec 24, 2007 11:13 AM

Ms. Spence, Your riff on RV names is cute, but there is a nastier tone running through your story. You ought to figure out why. I suspect it goes beyond being bothered by RVs.

I notice that the only "campground" from your trip for which you provide specifics is Mountain Shadows in Wells, Nevada. That is an RV park with some spaces reserved for tents. If you don't want to be around RVs, why go to an RV park? A bit like going to a bar and then complaining about the drinking. And just what is the natural spectacle a few feet off I-80 in Wells that you enjoyed so much and that the RVers were missing by relaxing inside their motorhomes?

The simple solution for you would be to go to one of the many smaller public campgrounds where RVs are less likely to congregate because of difficult access. About 20 miles south of Wells, up in the Humboldt Range, for example, is beautiful, alpine Angel Lake. There might be some RVs there but not in the concentration you found objectionable at Mountain Shadows. But perhaps you couldn't make the effort to locate that spot and drive there, despite your adventurous spirit. Or did you like the hot water and showers at Mountain Shadows?

And what's an adventurous nature lover like you doing on I-80 anyway? Next time try Highway 50 or one of the other more remote routes across Nevada. You'll be much less tormented by RVs.

As to the hyperbole of RV names, what about all the young, hip "outdoor" types who mostly wear their over-priced North Face and Patagonia parkas to coffee houses, bookstores, bars and restaurants around the west? Many of those duds have names just as ridiculous as those plastered on RVs. Names that one would expect to find only in the Alaskan outback but strangely, mostly show up in less rugged places. Does that make the owners of that gear targets of ridicule too? Or just posers?

I've camped in most conceivable ways over the years. VW vans, cars, motorcycles, bicycles, hiking, kayaking. I'm planning an 8-day trans-Sierra hike for next summer. But the truth is I've spent much more time in the outdoors since purchasing a small motorhome a few years ago than I was ever able to do before. An eight month trip around the perimeter of the country such as I took last year just wouldn't work for me if I was traveling in my old VW with my backpack in the back. It's nice to have a heater, a kitchen, a shower and a your own bed.

We tow a Jeep and carry hiking boots and day packs. You might be surprised how much wilderness we see while RVing. And the remoteness of some of our camping. And how nice it is to come back to a comfortable small home when the day is over. Try it sometime. You might like it.

And yes, I've been bothered by RVers at times. Generators, lights, noisy diesel engines. But I've also been bothered by tent campers who aren't always the best neighbors either. But I've gotten much more enjoyment than annoyance out of both types of campers. One key to a happy camping experience is courtesy toward and tolerance of others, regardless of their approach to enjoying the outdoors.


Gardnerville, NV


Kim Kircher
Kim Kircher
Oct 25, 2011 11:58 AM
I suppose I shouldn't be surprised by the harsh reactions here. Seems there's always been a bit of us vs. them in regards to RVs and tent-campers. But still. I didn't pick up on any underlying hostility in Evelyn's article. Certainly the names of RVs are a little over-done. You can't argue with that. They remind me a bit of suburban neighborhood names: Vuecrest, Vista View Estates, Sunnyside Meadows. I thought this article was funny. I've road tripped in a pickup truck and often looked with a mixture of disdain and envy at the huge RVs. It's only natural. But RVs are getting bigger, with their popout sides and longer lengths. They must be like driving a semi. At some point, you have to wonder if you couldn't get away with just a little less room.