Saturday, April 19, 2008

Camp Wal-Mart

We are at yet another Wal-Mart, this one in Rockport (map).

Our plan for yesterday afternoon was to stop either at one of the picnic areas that showed on our map, or Goose Island State Park. The first picnic area was unappealing, and the second one, which would have been perfect, was clearly posted "No Overnight Camping." That's unusual for Texas, but when it does happen, it's usually a sign that one is very close to heavily-used recreation areas. Additional "No Overnight Camping" signs at various other potential turn-outs and fishing spots along the road confirmed that we were, indeed, in just such an area.

We decided to head on to Goose Island State Park, reasoning that, even though it was Friday, we would be early enough to still snag a space. Unfortunately, we had to turn back on the approach road, which was covered by a canopy of old oak trees with ever-decreasing clearance. We made it part of the way down the road by swerving back and forth across the oncoming lane, doing what we like to call the low-branch slalom. But we could see up ahead the road becoming divided, with one lane in each direction and oaks not only to either side, but also in the median. If we encountered a low branch on the divided section, there'd be no place to dodge it, and we'd have to back out. With occasional traffic behind us, that seemed like a recipe for disaster, so, reluctantly, we made a three-point turn at a fortuitously placed intersection just before the divide, and headed back out to the highway.

At this point we more or less resigned ourselves to having to hunt for a spot on the beach after crossing the ferry. Without having pre-scoped the beach for hardness and the ability to support all of Odyssey's 47,000 lbs on less than 500 square inches, we were a little bit nervous about starting such a search at what would likely be 5pm by the time we arrived, but sometimes that's just how things work out.

When we arrived here in Rockport, another Wal-Mart stay was not really on our minds, but the dog was asking for a walk, and a Wal-Mart parking lot is usually a pretty safe bet for getting Odyssey off the road. Frankly, given all the "No Overnight" signs we'd seen in the region, we did not imagine that this store would allow it either. So we were somewhat surprised to find signs in the lot directing us to "RV Parking."

This store has striped ten spaces for RV or boat trailer parking. The spaces are extra wide and a good 100' long, allowing for rigs of almost any size, and even two rigs per space in a pinch. They are angled pull-throughs on heavy concrete, presumably to protect the lot from heavy-weight traffic or maybe the ravages of jacks that some RV'ers just can't seem to resist deploying (we've seen some extensive jack damage in asphalt lots). It was clearly a good stopping point, relieving us of having to hunt on the beach at the end of the day, and there was a Chili's restaurant in the same lot, so we decided to just call it a day here.

I applaud Wal-Mart for providing such an area for in-transit RVers to shop in the store and spend a night. But I worry, as I sometimes do, that the actions of an ungrateful and obnoxious few will end up closing this option to the rest of us, with either the store itself or perhaps the city government finally deciding they've had enough. (I discussed one such store in this post.)

When we arrived here mid-afternoon yesterday, this rig was well-established:

This couple is not "spending the night." They are camping. (The distinction, as now promulgated by many RV-rights advocacy groups, can be found in this "overnight etiquette" document.) Note that:
  • Their tow vehicle is disconnected, uncharacteristic for a fiver "passing through."
  • Their jacks are fully deployed. Thankfully, this particular location has concrete which will likely withstand this.
  • There are items "stored" under the rig, including their dog and his kennel.
  • They are taking up not one, but two of the 100' spaces that Wal-Mart has graciously provided. If more than ten rigs were here (probably not an uncommon occurrence at this store), that would force someone out into another part of the lot, whereas clearly the store wants us all here. In addition to being positioned (unnecessarily so) in the space such that their slide-out protrudes several feet into the next space, they've parked their truck in the adjacent space as well, rather than in the ample space either in front of or behind their rig.
  • Of course, I can't be certain of this, but it looks to me that they've been here longer than a day. At this writing, they've loaded themselves into their truck and headed out someplace.
While not an RV-overnight etiquette issue, per se, they also have one of those annoying contractor generators in the back of the truck that they ran for several hours.

As if one rig ignoring established etiquette was not enough, this rig pulled in later in the day:

These folks immediately set up their chairs and table in an adjacent space, poured themselves several glasses of wine, and sat out smoking and jawboning for hours. They've also got their hydraulic jacks down.

Lastly, the rig on the other side of us looks to have done the dishes with their gray water valve open -- disgusting. (You're probably thankful that I don't have a picture of that one.)

Now, I'm no goody-two-shoes in this regard. We once spent two nights in a row in a Wal-Mart. (Well, Odyssey did -- we were visiting friends who whisked us away for a day. And we got permission first.) And I spent a week stealthily parked in a mostly-unused lot behind a strip mall in Austin. And, in the heat, we will usually put an awning out a foot or two to keep the sun off the glass. But I was (or we were, as the case may be) very sensitive to the appearance of the whole affair, as we always are. We try to take up the minimum amount of space that will fit us, and we always strive to look like we are parking, not camping. We always ask ourselves if we appear to be doing something that will attract the attention of the store manager, or some neighborhood busybody, or the constabulary.

Maybe it's just me, but I really wish these folks would exercise a bit more discretion and judgment. I understand the desire to save a few bucks and take advantage of these opportunities when they present themselves. But it's a parking lot, fer cryin' out loud -- look like you're parked. Of course, the last time I railed on about this subject, we got some nasty comments on the blog. (Too nasty, actually, for our family-friendly format, so I deleted them.) So my opinion is not universally shared. But, hey, it's my blog, and I can rant if I want to.

In a few minutes, we will head south to Port Aransas and the ferry.


  1. You could put a copy of the overnight etiquette protocol on the doors of the offenders. Also, if WalMart has any type of security, you could give them copies to provide to offenders.

    I love the way the area around Goose Island loves their oak trees and tries to preserve them,even the one in the middle of that intersection.

  2. I did, indeed, leave a copy of the "etiquette" letter on the door of the rig. It's written for just that purpose.

    On the Goose Island oaks, we may well return some day on a scooter with a tape measure, to see if we could make it in. But with no place to park the bus and walk the road, it was not in the cards when we went by.

  3. While I generally agree with your points, I do have some sympathy with people who's slide-outs protrude into another space. I've seen some RVs with slide outs that are pretty unlivable with them slid in, and if the space doesn't allow them to be slid out without impinging on an adjacent space, there may not be much they can do. If they could have parked in such a way as to keep the slide-outs in their own space and are gratuitously taking up two, that's a different matter, of course.

  4. I also must take minor exception to your rant. Our motorhome is tight inside with the slideouts in and we can't get to our clothing. As for the jacks, we "rock & roll" with out them and it is not good to extend the slideouts out without them, but I use wood pads under them. As for the lawn chairs,it is nice to relax outside after a day on the road, just be ready to put them away.

  5. @Blackeagle (et. seq) -- I need to clarify my slide-out comments:

    I don't have a problem with the slides being out. I know very well that many rigs today are completely unusable without them extended. In fact, there used to be an item about slides in the overnight etiquette document years ago, which has since been removed for exactly this reason.

    My issue with this particular situation was that the rig was quite deliberately parked such that the slide extended into the next space -- there was plenty of room to make this unnecessary had he just parked three feet closer to the curb. My perception was that they just wanted the extra room for themselves, even going so far as to block off access to that space with their tow vehicle.

    @anonymous(Frank) -- As for jacks, I disbelieve that any rig "requires" them to be down -- with few exceptions, hydraulic jacks are not standard equipment on new rigs (hand-crank stabilizers on travel trailers are a notable exception). These rigs are well designed by the manufacturer to be used without them, for the most part. And they are very, very hard on asphalt -- even with boards.

    That said, boards are a necessity if you are going to deploy the jacks, and I applaud you for using them. Yet I can tell you from experience that you are in a very small minority if you are using boards under your jacks at Wal-Mart. In four years, I've seen hundreds of rigs with their jacks down, and I have yet to ever see any boards under them outside of a campground.

    I stand by my position on lawn chairs -- they have no place whatsoever in an active retail store parking lot. To the average (non-RVing) store customer, that gives the appearance of a set-up camp -- they're not going to know you're there just for the night, or how long your day was. And this is how no-parking legislation starts, with a handful of local residents calling city hall to complain.

    The same goes for grills, sports equipment, and anything else that makes the rig look like it's parked for "recreational" purposes.

    Every situation is different, and it's always a judgment call as to what may or may not be appropriate in any given spot. But the rigs in this parking lot, IMO, went beyond the pale.

    Given the tourism/recreation nature of the setting, with overnight parking restricted in so many places, it's only a matter of time before the myriad commercial RV parks along 35 and 70 there start to lobby for an ordinance restraining Wal-Mart from allowing RV parking. When it comes up for debate, you can bet they'll have photos of rigs with lawn chairs and patio umbrellas, or ones that stayed for a week, and the fact that the vast majority of RV'ers just spend a night and move on with little impact other than some dollars spent in the local economy will be completely lost.


  6. Sean, I can understand what you are saying about "camping" at the Walmart. So far, we have not stayed in a Walmart or rest area.

    Once, we stayed at the Harris Ranch in California as they allow RV's in their parking lot. We parked where they told us and I put the slides out on the "curb" side as it wouldn't effect anyone.

    Normally, I would rather stay in a campground with hookups. I didn't pay $xxx,xxx to worry about parking free somewhere.

    Also, I feel safer in a campground whether it's real or imagined.


  7. Well said Sean.
    If we don't police ourselves, the lot owner and/or the government will.


  8. I never agreed with the no-slide "rule" in the etiquette letter and argued against it for years. I am glad to see reality set in and it removed. Many rigs can not function without one or more slides at least partially extended. As long as good judgment is used I see no reason not to extend slides. Good judgment means not to block traffic or infringe on other spots.

    As to the jacks, I agree that jacks are not needed. If you have to park on a slight slope you either need to live with it, or move on. IMO. Jacks almost always damage asphalt and will cause more closures of overnight parking.

    I TOTALLY agree with the no chairs and "stuff" rule. This is not a campground.

  9. I'm so sorry I tried to steer you towards Goose Island. I never thought about those oak trees. I didn't realize how tall Odyssey must be.

    We stayed a couple nights at a Lowe's once and detached the van as we were trying to fix something on the trailer and couldn't move it. We also needed to take the van to get the supplies. I'm pretty sure we've lowered the scissor jacks also to decrease the amount of bouncing in the trailer. We've never taken lawn chairs out or stored stuff under the trailer though. Course, if we had a dog, we might have. :)

    I much prefer Lowe's for parking overnight or libraries or welcome centers.

  10. @harvestmoon: No worries. We actually had headed to Goose Island on our own research, before we even received your recommendations here in the blog. Of course, reading those afterward and realizing what we had missed made it all the more unfortunate.

    We are 13' tall -- not the tallest thing on the road, but taller than most factory RV's by anywhere from 3" to well over a foot.

    Tractor-trailers are also 13', which means we can breathe easy on any route that gets truck traffic. Back roads that are not truck routes present a challenge. Softer trees are less of a problem -- we've snapped off our fair share of branches. But these kinds of old oaks stop us cold -- sheet metal and glass is no match for a 4" diameter oak branch!

    We also like Lowe's for overnight stays, and it's particularly appropriate and handy when you are carrying out repairs and need parts. And, as I've already written, hand-cranked stabilizer "jacks" on trailers are not the problem -- it's the hydraulic ones than can place several hundred PSI of pressure on the asphalt that will likely get parking lots closed to future stays.

    Do keep the suggestions coming -- we've been enjoying them.

  11. I am with you 100% Sean. We have a WallMart just down the street and I'm amazed at what I see pull in and setup camp for WEEKS!
    Full time job for the store manager having to police the RV lot!
    Hope to see ya up in New England sometime
    -Robert McHenry, Concord NH.

  12. Sean, I have read several comments talking about common sense and one or two regarding courtesy. It is apparent both are in short supply with a good percentage of RVers. Whether it is Wal-Mart, Flying J or a rest stop, I can't believe the audacity of these people placing their slides in the adjoining parking lane. Particularly when they could have parked to one side of the lane and accommodated both chassis and slide within it. Unfortunately, it appears enforced legislation is the only reality these folks will comply with.


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