Tuesday, June 24, 2008

"Camp Wal-Mart" Hall of Shame, Part III

We are at the Wal-Mart in Cody, Wyoming (map).

Long-time readers will recognize from today's title that I am about to launch into one of my trademark rants. First, however, a short update: We had a nice drive here from Eagle Creek, stopping briefly to check out the North Fork Campground in Buffalo Bill State Park, which was nice, and a bargain at $12 for non-residents, but I was feeling like we really needed to get to town for provisions.

A few miles further along we stopped at the Buffalo Bill (née Shoshone) Dam visitor center. The concrete arch dam was quite impressive -- the world's highest dam at the time of its construction, at 325' (since expanded to 350'), and the first "Reclamation" project in the west. With the river raging, the spillway was in full operation, creating a spectacular spray at the base of the structure. Unsurprisingly, there was a lot of debris against the upstream face -- tons and tons of wood, some of which we had witnessed making its way downstream (and one pool noodle -- no word on whether there had been a child attached).

We arrived here at Wal-Mart mid-afternoon and situated ourselves in the darkest and most remote corner of the lot, next to an unladen flat-bed semi. In addition to a gargantuan $200 shopping spree (see, I told you we needed provisions), I wandered around the lot taking the photos that follow. We had a decent, if pricey, dinner at iconic local eatery Cassie's Supper House, which is right across the street, before retiring to our living room for a movie (Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest) which we rented from the Redbox dispenser right here in Wal-Mart.

This, by the way, is the first Wal-Mart where I have ever seen live lobsters for sale in the grocery department (and their diminutive brethren in the tropical fish department):

Now about that rant... I know I've said all this before (here and here), but it still torques me every time. In four years of living full time on the road, we've stayed at hundreds of Wal-Marts, and it is always disappointing when we come across one that, for whatever reason, does not permit it. Tourist destinations, in general, are the places where such is most likely to be the case; often, this is due to lobbying on the part of local RV park operators.

RV park operators claim they are losing revenue and that they have made extensive investments to ensure RVers have an appropriate place to park with proper facilities to enjoy their stay. The counterargument that RV travelers and their lobbyists (FMCA, Escapees, Good Sam, and others) have made, often successfully, is that sometimes all one needs is a safe place to park for the night while "passing through." Such travelers have no need of camping "facilities" and the requirement to pay for such unnecessary facilities is likely to simply cause the traveler to continue on to a different town. As part of the extensive lobbying effort, these varied organizations have even cooperated to produce this statement on overnight parking etiquette.

Cody is exactly the sort of place where this war is likely to be waged. It is something of a tourist destination in its own right, as well as being the gateway to Yellowstone. I can see two different RV parks right from my seat here as I type, and research shows around a dozen in town, including a KOA franchise, that arch-nemesis of Wal-Mart parking.

With that as a backdrop, these clowns come along and make liars of the rest of us:

These two rigs pulled in just across from us late in the afternoon. They immediately put the awning out, set up several tables and a half dozen or so chairs, and proceeded to have a barbeque in their private little patio area. Later, their several children used sidewalk chalk to draw an extensive hop-scotch area across three parking spaces. They had Wisconsin plates -- I'm guessing that this behavior has been the norm for them in a half dozen Wal-Marts across the country.

This couple has set up camp. They have their awning, mat, chairs, and table out, the dog (who later ran loose through the parking lot) tied up, and their tow vehicle detached for those sightseeing trips.

Later on, they hauled out the noisy little contractor generator on the other side of the rig. I'm glad we were not anywhere near them.

No word on whether these two rigs are traveling together. But when we arrived in the afternoon, the tow vehicles were nowhere to be found -- out sightseeing, perhaps in Yellowstone, is our guess. The rigs are set up for camping -- all the jacks are down. At least they put some wood under them.

This "hybrid" (hard-sided trailer with canvas pop-outs) is also clearly "camped." Popping the canvas parts out is somewhat of a gray area -- it's the only way to sleep in the rig (OTOH, when we used to travel by motorcycle, a tent was the only way to sleep; we would never have considered Wal-Mart an option with that mode of travel). But the lawn chair and the bicycles bespeak a different intent.

Now, I've showed you just six rigs out of over a dozen that were here last night. The remainder of the rigs looked to be more or less in "passing through" mode, with the exception of another couple of older travel trailers that appeared to have been "dropped" in the lot, and another detached fiver. But rest assured that the next time this matter comes up for debate at the city council meeting, one or more of the campground operators will come armed with dozens of photos just like these, as irrefutable evidence against the claim that people "just need a safe place to park for the night." Sadly, they will be right.

Incidentally, Wal-Mart's friendly parking policy is legendary; many long-haul truckers occasionally will stop at a Wal-Mart for their mandatory rest period. Here in Cody, I also spotted this bus:

This custom-modified Mercedes 0404 is owned and operated by "Rotel," which is an acronym for "Das Rollende Hotel" ("The Rolling Hotel"), a German tour company that offers budget tours all over the world in similarly equipped vehicles. This coach has 24 passenger seats and 26 sleeping berths (the two extras are for the driver and the guide). On the curb side across from the berths is an extensive drop-down "camp kitchen" set up.

We often see these coaches in the National Parks; Rotel often books a group campsite for the coach. People familiar with Rotel sometimes ask us if our German-built Neoplan is or was ever a Rotel coach -- odd question, since there is really no mistaking the extensive and unique sleeper/kitchen arrangement that constitutes the back half of every Rotel rig.

The Rotel left later in the afternoon -- I am guessing the customers were deposited at the museum or wherever, and the driver was here catching some rest or maybe stocking up on groceries and supplies for the evening. These tours, BTW, are offered exclusively in German, with German tour guides.

Sometime later, this nice Arrow Stage Lines Setra coach showed up in its stead; again, I am guessing the customers were at some attraction and the driver needed a place for some downtime.

Now that we are fully provisioned, we will continue east on US14A toward Bighorn Lake.


  1. I hope you left a nice RV etiquette flyer on their trailers while they were gone.

    Sad thing to say, but with rising fuel cost this is only going to get worse.

    Imagine being one of those children when they grow up, having a childhood memory of vacationing in a wally world parking lot. Not good, not good at all.

  2. Oh don't you just love how summertime brings out all of the morons?

    Sheesh, I'm glad we are workamping through September.

  3. a long long time ago, I used to live full time in my 27' Shadow Cruiser. At the time, I was on the road for work, and I lived in my rig vs staying in motels. Back then I stayed almost exclusively in campgrounds, as I wasn't equipped for boondocking. I occasionally would overnight in a rest area, but even that was rare, grabbing perhaps 4 or 6 hours tops before rolling on down the highway.
    These days, while I'd enjoy the comforts of satellite and cell phones, I probably wouldn't overnight in a walmart if it was posted.

    I realize that there are those who would abuse the 'privelege', as sad as that may be.

  4. A most justified rant if you ask me. How some people can be so ignorant, stupid and inconsiderate is way beyond me.

  5. I find myself trying to NOT park overnight in a Wal-Mart, just so I don't feel linked to idiots like those. Really burns me...vent anytime!

  6. I have seen that same German bus down here in Quintana Roo (Mexico, Caribbean coast)! It is frequently here during winter.

  7. If you did not see the Buffalo Bill Museum in Cody, you missed a treat. There are five sections, one wonderful art collection (Remington, Russell, etc.), prairie indians, an amazing gun collection (so my husband says)and I can't remember what the others were. I thought it would be a tourist trap, but it was great, very professional, about $30 entrance.

  8. You are an idiot. For all you know these people had permision. WalMart certainly didn't mind as these people didn't get ticketed.

    Atleast the other people were out looking at the sites while you were steaming in your vehicle sitting in the WalMart parking lot the whole time.

  9. Dear "Anonymous,"

    First off, name-calling is not appropriate here in the comments. In most circumstances I just delete such posts.

    But as long as you've chosen to do so, I will stoop to your level in a game of who's-the-real-idiot, by pointing out that you completely missed the major point of my post.

    Which is to say that it really doesn't matter whether or not these people had "permission." These matters are ultimately tried in the court of public opinion, and a property owner does not really have a unilateral right to allow any behavior they wish.

    If you live in a suburban neighborhood, for example, you might choose to allow friends to tent camp in your front yard. And you might get away with this a time or two. But if you allow pretty much anyone to camp in your yard any time, I can assure you that one or more of your neighbors will complain, and you (and/or your "guests") will find yourself with a fat ticket for creating a nuisance.

    When people such as these overstay their welcome and/or overstep the bounds of what is reasonable, they invite the entire community to step forward and take action against them. And this is exactly what has happened in countless communities around the country, which now ban overnight stays of any kind in parking lots -- even if the landlord grants "permission."

    A simple search of the internet will reveal thousands of such stories. Or is that skill beyond you?

    Oh, and by the way, we did enjoy the "sites" [SIC] as we passed through.


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