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RV Camping : Campgrounds
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Ten great campgrounds of the West
By Chuck Woodbury

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Here are ten of my favorite places to camp in the West.


This dusty outpost at the intersection of I-10 and U.S. 95 attracts a million RVers a year who show up to shop at a half-dozen giant flea markets and an occasional gem show. This is the best place in the West to buy a dollar wristwatch, a solar panel or a pound of petrified dinosaur dung. Some RVers stay in private campgrounds, but most squat for free or nearly free on government land. Tune in to KBUX-AM, operated by Buck and Maude Burdette from their spare bedroom. Best time to visit: winter season (definitely not in the heat of summer unless you're a lizard): Info: Quartzsite Chamber of Commerce, Box 85, Quartzsite, AZ 85346.


Death Valley National Park
RVers by the thousands migrate here every winter to soak up sunshine at 200 feet below sea level. My favorite campgrounds are at the Furnace Creek oasis, where there are literally thousands of sites, gushing spring water, thousands of date palm trees (stock up on dates here), a museum, general store, restaurant, park visitor center, and the world's lowest golf course. Enjoy the sounds of howling coyotes at night, and at daybreak savor the Panamint range bathed in an orange glow. Stock up on grub before arriving; the general store only has the basics, all at top dollar. Best time to visit: November through March. Info: (619) 786-2331.

Calaveras Big Trees State Park, Arnold
The spacious North Grove Campground butts against a magnificent grove of giant sequoias, with an easy one-mile loop trail leading through. The grove was discovered in 1841, the first documented sighting of Sierra redwoods by a white man. The monster trees grow to 300 feet tall, 30 feet wide, and live 2,000 years or more (to see the biggest trees, visit the more pristine South Grove). Be sure to step onto the 25-foot-wide Big Stump, which once served as a dance floor. It's just a minute walk from the North Grove campground. Best time to visit this park in California's gold country: summer season. Info: (209) 795-2334.

KOA Kampground, Willits
This is one of the best KOAs in the West for family campers. It is, perhaps, the only campground in America with regular rail service: the funky Skunk tourist train, which runs from inland Willits to the coast at Fort Bragg, stops daily at "KOA Station" right on the park property. Campers are invited to fish for free in the "catch and release" bass and perch pond (no license needed) or feed a friendly goat at the petting zoo. Kids get free hayrides, and the whole family can dine at the evening barbecue and then join the sing along in the KOA ghost town. Best time to visit: Spring to Fall, but the northern California park is open all year: Info: (707) 459-6179.


Dinosaur National Monument, Dinosaur
In a land once occupied by dinosaurs, on today's border of Colorado and Utah, is one of America's most remote National Monuments. Here, you can see dinosaur femurs, toes and vertebrae at Dinosaur Quarry, and at night marvel at a million stars from your campsite at the secluded Green River Campground on the river's shore. Make a campfire, savor the solitude, and ponder the giant creatures that inhabited these parts 140 million years earlier. Best time to visit: summer. Info: (970) 374-3000.


Craters of the Moon National Monument, Arco
No, you are not on Mars, although the terrain sure looks like it. Most of the eerie, alien-looking terrain was created by lava flows and volcanic eruptions centuries ago, and scientists say there's more activity to come. But don't worry, it might be a century or two. In the meantime, RVers can hole up in the compact 52-unit campground, and explore the nearby cinder cones, lava bombs, splatter pots and lava tubes. Drive the seven-mile park road and pretend you're on another world. Best time to visit: summer season. Info: (208) 527-3257.


Valley of Fire State Park, east of Las Vegas
You've never seen so much gorgeous fire-red sandstone rock in one place, and it's only an hour drive from Las Vegas. Chances are good that you've seen this park before: it's been the backdrop for countless car commercials. The campgrounds are so secluded and quiet you can hear a raven's wings flap in the still air of early morning. This is a world away from busy, noisy Las Vegas, and a great place to hike or simply take it easy. Check out the Indian petroglyphs along Petroglyph Canyon Trail. Best time to visit: winter season. Info: (702) 397-2088.


Honeybear Campground, Ophir
This 100-acre private campground on coast road U.S. 101 north of Gold Beach is owned and operated by sausage-maker Gary Saks, who alternates between renting campsites and churning out bratwurst. At night, Saks and his wife Jeanett serve up their tasty creations in the campground's 150-seat Bavarian-style restaurant, where campers dine, then enjoy Gary sing and play polkas on stage. Best time to visit: summer. Info: 34161 Ophir Road, Ophir, OR 97464, (541) 247-2765.

Wallowa Lake State Park, Joseph
The local chamber of commerce calls this remote corner of eastern Oregon the Switzerland of America. The Wallowa Mountains are indeed majestic, with 13 of the state's 29 peaks over 9,000 feet. The state park campground is on the shore of glacier-carved Wallowa Lake, and a short walk from the longest, steepest tramway in North America to the peak of 8,200-foot Mt. Howard. Call well ahead to reserve a campsite; the word is out on this beauty spot. Best time to visit: summer. Info: Wallowa State Park, Wallowa Lake, Route 1, Box 323, Joseph, OR 97846.


Dead Horse Point State Park, near Moab
The view from Dead Horse Point, on a plateau overlooking Canyonlands National Park and the Colorado River, rivals those at Grand Canyon. In the old days, cowboys herded wild horses to the point across a 30-yard-wide neck of land, whereupon the animals had a choice: surrender or leap 2,000 feet to their deaths. Today, visitors can have a picnic at Dead Horse Point (or camp there during the winter season), and enjoy a spectacular panoramic view of 5,000 square miles of spectacular canyon country. A 1.5 mile trail leads to and from the park campground. Best time to visit: all year. (800) 322-3770.

Capitol Reef National Park

You'll see walls of red here like you have never seen before. Once the home of the Fremont Indians and later Mormon pioneers, the area became a National Park in 1971. While its Utah red rock neighbors Bryce Canyon and Zion National Parks get the big publicity and big crowds, Capitol Reef is less tourist-trodden and yet just a gorgeous. The lone campground at Fruita, however, fills up in the summer, so arrive early. When the fruit ripens in the old Mormon orchards, climb a ladder and fill a pail. Best time to visit: summer. Info: (801) 425-3791.


Hoh Rain Forest, Olympic National Park
If you love moss and banana slugs, this Olympic Peninsula rain forest is your place. The Hoh is the only intact coniferous rain forest in the contiguous United States. Bring an umbrella, even in relatively dry July and August. The dark, national park campground is under a canopy of Sitka spruce, Douglas-fir and Western hemlock, with club-moss and ferns growing everywhere. RVers with leaky roofs best stay away. Best time to visit: summer. Info: (360) 374-6925. 

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