Editor's note: Occasional contributor Lee Dalton recently had the opportunity to explore the latest in recreational vehicle technology. What he found was proof that you really don't need to leave home without (fill in the blank)!
A couple of years ago, after a very windy rainy night in a soggy tent sharing a campground at Yellowstone with a wandering grizzly bear, I finally decided to cave in to advancing age and seek at least a modicum of creature comfort while camping.
So I bought a modest, well-used and cared for 16-foot camper trailer – my own portable motel. It has a refrigerator that will run on 12 volts, propane or 110 volts. There’s an air conditioner that, so far, I’ve used twice. It has a stove, a potty, a shower of sorts, small bunk bed and a solar panel on the roof.
It’s ideal for a lone traveler or one who is accompanied by a very good friend. Any time wind and rain or snow are howling past outside – or a large furry thing is sniffing about – it’s absolutely wonderful.
And when advancing age requires a trip to the potty in the middle of a very cold night or when you can see your breath in the morning and a flip of a switch turns the furnace on – it’s even more wonderful.
So I must now admit to my chagrin that I am officially, after a lifetime of preaching purity in the outdoors, a hypocrite. Thus it was that I went to attend the Big RV Show in Salt Lake because I’m thinking of buying an electric generator.
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Oh, my heck! (That’s an exclamation native only to Utah)
After paying for my ticket and registering for a drawing for a fishing trip to Alaska, I wandered the exhibit hall. It was crammed from wall to wall with what at first appeared to be trailers from a fleet of semi-trucks. Most of these behemoths rode on at least two axles and towered high overhead.
Somehow, inside the mammoth hall, they seemed to be even larger than when encountered in a park’s campground. Occasionally, a small trailer of only 16 or 20 feet was hidden among the big ones. Crowds of people squeezed through narrow aisles, most apparently trying to dodge an army of eager salespersons. Open doors and extended folding stairs invited everyone to enter and gaze at the interiors of these things.
It was like entering some sort of palatial high-end penthouse condo, and I frequently heard people around me whispering in awed tones, “Oh, my heck!” Those hushed exclamations were interspersed with such things as, “Look, Ralph, it has three TV sets!” Or, “Wow, think of the fun we could have in that bed!” “Hey, Mom, there’s a bathtub in here!” “That’s not an oven, it’s a dishwasher!”
Some exclaimed about the closet space. Others gawked at humongous trailers called Toy Haulers that have an aircraft hangar at one end capable of toting 12 snowmobiles or 14 ATVs. Some even have built-in gasoline tanks to fuel the toys they haul along.
No Campfire Necessary: Artificial Fireplaces
In at least two trailers, and one $350,500 motor-coach camper, I saw genuine artificial electric fireplaces complete with dancing liquid crystal flames and warm electric heat blowing from vents at the top of the fireplace. It’s certainly only a matter of time before some clever American invents an electronic marshmallow to be roasted over the electronic flame.
There were generators capable of producing as much electricity as Hoover Dam. There were self-propelled motor-homes bigger than a Greyhound bus. Most had cavernous storage space below decks that could be used to transport everything the family owned – or where unruly kids or mothers-in-law could be stuffed out of sight and earshot.
There were double bunks. Washers and dryers. Extra large water tanks. Triple bunks. Air conditioners that could cool an entire university. Hermetically sealed windows to keep dust (and nature) out. Another benefit, of course, is that way the artificial park smells from your air freshener won't be diluted by the real stuff!
Electric jacks that automatically level the trailer. Surround-sound stereo systems. And did I mention that every one of them had at least one – and usually several – TV sets with satellite antennas folded on the roof?
Outside of many of them is a special door that opens to reveal an outdoor kitchen complete with stove, sink, refrigerator – and Flat Screen Television. Large posters pasted on the sides of many the land yachts on exhibit portrayed the featured vehicle parked scenically in such sacred places as Yosemite or Arches or a peaceful seashore while the family gathered around enjoying football or NASCAR on the big screen.
Just think of the lifetime of memories being implanted in brains of those children fortunate enough to have parents willing to introduce them to the wonders of nature at the edge of the Grand Canyon or below the majestic peaks of the Tetons. If, that is, there is time left over after they have enjoyed the latest broadcast of American Idol or CSI.
Also, lest the kids wander off in search of a creek or meadow to explore, simply tossing a DVD into the player will keep them close to camp and out of danger.
I was especially entranced by a new feature that seemed to be included on virtually every trailer I saw at the show. Outdoor loudspeakers that will allow everyone within half a mile to enjoy their favorite music or whatever you call it with full-powered booming bass. I guess those speaker systems would provide some great protection against anything wild that might threaten. Even the meanest grizzly would be driven to the high country by blasting electric guitars and hard rock lyrics.
Guns may no longer be needed in our national parks. Unless they become necessary for entertainment addicts to protect themselves against angry campers in adjacent sites.
About Economics And The Environment
I also found myself musing about the economic benefits of all this. Think of the jobs created to manufacture of all these things. Price tags on many of them showed how any family willing to go into hock up to their eyeballs can easily own a portable mansion.
Banks and loan sharks will need to add more people to their staffs. And if they can finance the ATVs and other toys needed to fill the Toy Haulers in order to produce memorable family moments, they will be able to leave tracks where tracks have never been left before or trigger thrilling avalanches in our western mountains and forests. Volunteer rescue squad members will need to purchase more equipment.
The possible boosts to our economy are endless. I read somewhere that the average owner of a recreational vehicle uses it ten nights per year. So if a family spends a moderate $35,000 on a new trailer and keeps it for ten years, they will spend only $350 per night of camping. (I didn’t want to destroy this family friendly moment by mentioning interest payments to the bank or fuel to fill the tank of whatever propels it.)
I understand that some people buy things like this to actually live in throughout their Golden Years. No problem with that. But few of the folks looking through them at the show were Golden or even Gray. It is said that industry provides what the public demands.
Yet I wonder if that is really true or if it’s really the other way around. Is it really the common people of this land who drive our insatiable consumer extravagance or is it a cabal of financiers who have learned they can brainwash Americans into spending money by offering an endless inventory of things we must have?
Does industry, in its competition to grab the market, simply try to make their products better or just bigger and fancier and more filled with gadgets? Do they simply send their ad agencies out to convince buyers that what they are peddling is what the buyers really want?
Thus, is the public gullible enough to begin to believe that they really do need three TV sets or a fire made of liquid crystals? Then there is the economic benefit to the nation when the family must find a truck capable of pulling their 8,000-pound (aka four-ton) mobile motel up hills – and stopping when they need to before reaching the edge of the canyon.
Imagine the economic benefit to the entire nation and world in this time of job scarcity when the family buys that eight-cylinder, one-ton pickup with the supercharged Diesel. Not only do workers in assembly plants in Mexico benefit, but so does the petroleum industry worldwide.
Paving companies benefit, too. Who in their right mind would want to pull an expensive and heavy trailer filled with delicate electronic equipment and priceless family heirloom snowmobiles over a rough dirt road? Contractors working in our national and state parks will profit as they build bigger and better parking lots and campground slips capable of holding a 45-foot trailer so it doesn’t hang out into the camp’s main road.
I found myself marveling at the genius of American Free Enterprise. Think of all the advertising employees who have become wealthy by inventing ways to convince countless American families that they REALLY NEED that trailer and new truck to pull it. On top of all that, since most of the components that comprise these homes away from home are manufactured far away from our shores, think of all the good people in China or Bangladesh who are being blessed with wages that might allow them to buy a luxurious used T-shirt after a day’s work.
Shouldn’t we really thank all those laboring in far away lands who are helping to make certain that no American ever has to spend an uncomfortable or boring night while camping?
Then there are the environmental benefits. Let’s see . . . . there is . . . . well, there are . . . Okay. Gonna have to come back to that later.
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And that brings us to Omnes Relinquite Spes, O Vos Intrantes.
There have been a lot of articles and comments here in the pages (screens?) of Traveler arguing the merits or demerits of increased access to such things as cell or Internet coverage in our parks. As more and more Americans take their electronic and other toys with them into the wild places, controversy is raised over what may – or may not – be appropriate.
We have discussed the need to get our children out into nature and the need to find ways to help modern Americans really appreciate the world around us so they will continue to value and protect its wonders.
I found myself thinking back only a few years to a time in my own past when camper trailers were much smaller than those surrounding me at the show. When most people visiting the woods and meadows and desert expanses walked rather than rode. When families sat beside campfires made of wood and smelled the smoke and sang songs or told stories to one another.
Have too many of us been duped by advertising into replacing the real world of natural things with electronic substitutes?
The question of how our national parks will face the future in a changing world is one of high interest. I shuddered when I thought of my own granddaughters and how disconnected they are becoming from the natural world around them because of artificial entertainments that keep them occupied while their busy parents do what busy parents do in today’s world.
I don’t have the wisdom or power needed to change that or even to adequately catalog my growing fears. But I do know that when I left the RV show, my heart was heavy. I could think only of the words, Omnes Relinquite Spes, O Vos Intrantes – Abandon hope, all ye who enter here.
Will I, and other people perhaps, find the wisdom and courage and energy it will take to preserve precious places in a land whose people seem every day to hear advertising’s siren call and think they need more and bigger toys to entertain themselves? I hope so. Things are changing. For good or not? Only time will tell.