We came down out of the Sawtooth Mountains just ahead of worsening weather, experiencing just enough light rain along the way to make us pull over and make sure that the ID-21 was a fully safe route for us. It was fine: not nearly as challenging as some of the mountain roads we have experienced, and doing so in our relatively modern motorhome is far more comfortable than in our old 1963 bus, which would have us creeping uphill at 15mph and pulling over during downhill runs to keep the air brakes pressurized.
Since our extended stay in Spokane we have visited four “destination” spots (Yellowstone, Grand Tetons, Craters of the Moon, and Salmon River) but now we had nothing but a westward sprint ahead of us until we reached the Pacific Coast. As such we had not done a lwot of research on the RV spots along the way since they would be “one nighters” with price and convenience the only real concerns.
About four hours down the road and just over the Oregon border we stopped for the night at the Malheur County Fairgrounds in Ontario. The “Desert Sage Event Center” there honored the Passport America rate, giving us power, water, and a separate dump station for $15. The place was unmanned upon our Sunday arrival and not particularly well signed: we had to drive around the property a bit to even find the designated RV Sites, and then took a separate walk about to locate the self-pay station. The quiet grassy area behind one of the main buildings, which we shared with two other RVs, the owners of which we never saw, was perfectly sufficient for our needs.
The next day we continued west, this time at least with a predetermined stopping point: Chickahominy National Recreation Area. Along the way I misjudged the availability of gas, and had to turn around on US-20, a narrow road with miles of no or soft shoulder sections, and backtrack a little ways to a get just enough fuel to make sure we would make it to the next civilized area. Oops.
Chickahominy is a grassy, rolling hills region with the bare remnants of a lake which once supported boating, fishing, and other water activities. Those days are either seasonal or long gone, with the boat ramps and fishing piers leading to naught but mud and a small pond. But for a one-night RV stop it was quite nice. There are a lot of pull-through campsites spread out over several loops, with only a few of them occupied during our visit. It’s all dry camping, and other than the $8 a night fee it feels a lot like a higher end BLM campground. We took a short hike before sunset, discovering a handful of geocaches along the way, and generally enjoyed our day there.
We pushed southwest, leaving the dry lands of interior Oregon and entering the Fremont National Forest. We circled around the Klamath Lakes chain, passing just south of Crater Lake National Park, to stop at Rocky Point Resort, a lovely mixed-use facility (RV sites and cabins) on the shore of Upper Klamath Lake. Their office was closed, but after walking around the property, talking to an employee, and making a couple of phone calls we were cleared to select a full hook up, pull-through site at the Passport America rate of $26 all in.
After two one-night stopovers in a row we were ready for a break from the daily RV drive, and since this lakefront property was so tranquil, we elected to stay a second night. Unfortunately, their Passport America rate is limited to a single night, which meant we would have to pay the full $52 to extend our stay. As Rosemarie has taught me, “those who do not ask, do not get” and so I negotiated, successfully convincing the manager/owner to give us a partial, 25% off PA rate. $37 is certainly more than we like to pay for a non-destination spot, but we really liked this place.
Giddy with the success of having saved eleven bucks, we treated ourselves to a meal at the on premises. restaurant. Many RV campgrounds that call themselves “resorts” are stretching the definition of that word quite a lot, and even in the better ones the onsite restaurants tend to serve pretty basic comfort food. Boy, let me tell you: this place was punching above their weight. The chef was professionally trained and was doing this job as a sort of semi-retirement gig. What I am trying to say is the food was damn good, and the ambiance was “cozy hunt lodge overlooking the lake at sunset” fantastic.
Well rested and fed we made the fourth leg of our journey to the coast. Our logistical challenge was the coming weekend, an approaching heat wave, and the proximity to the frequently expensive California coast. Our online research and a conversation with a prospective campground owner convinced us to stop short of both the coast and the California border for a stay at The Laughing Alpaca Campground and RV Park.
The park was nominally full, but the young owners went out of their way to prepare a site that had some not quite complete drainage and plumbing work going on, and after a bit of discussion, honored a partial Passport America rate despite us being a week short of their official window for this discount (see above for Rosemarie’s advice when faced with such a situation.)
The park is beautifully maintained with quirky and charming touches throughout, our site backed up right on a crystal-clear stream suitable for swimming and sun worship, and there are alpacas on premises that you are free to feed with some wort of crab apple near the corral pens. What more could you want? We ended up staying three peaceful days.
So that was our four-leg run to the coast with stops at one national rec area and three Passport America properties, even if two of them provided only partial discounts. For those unfamiliar, Passport America partners with a few thousand campgrounds in North America to provide “50%” discounts on nightly fees. Individual parks are permitted to put in place as many limitations and caveats on that discount as they like: most have blackout dates correlating to their high season and holiday weekends and a maximum number of nights for which they will apply the discount. Many add on a “resort” fee of a $5 or so a day, or an extra fee for 50-amp power, or cash only for PA discounts, or no reservations for the PA rate, etc. If that sounds complicated, note that the PA website has an easily navigable website with maps and a page for each partner property, and on that page is a clear list of restrictions.
Despite all those restrictions, we use Passport America extensively every year, and derive a benefit that far exceeds the annual $40 membership fee. Will it work for you? That depends on your RV travel pattern, campground type preferences, flexibility, and willingness to do a bit of due diligence before travelling. For instance, if you are a snowbird type RVer who travels from your home to one location during the winter, you might not benefit much from Passport America except during your run south. If you have access to and strongly prefer military campgrounds, it might not work for you. Ditto for state and national parks. We prefer a variety of park types; military, public, and private, and tend to move around quite a lot. We recognize that after all the fees are paid, we probably only end up with about a 30% true discount compared to comparable non-PA properties in any given area, but it still pays for itself and then some every year. We have dropped our Good Sam and AAA memberships since PA works so much better for us. If you are interested in signing up, consider giving us a referral using our code: R-0261872 for which we will receive a few extra months added to our membership.
Next up: Northern California and “Glass Beach.”