Saturday, October 6, 2012

Another Kind of Rootless: Semi-Permanent Park Residents

Fog in the morning, Oliver Lee Memorial State Park, Alamogordo, New Mexico

Semi-permanent park residents

At Oliver Lee Memorial State Park, I discovered a sub genus of rootless I hadn't encountered before: People who are semi-permanent residents at state or federal parks.

At Oliver Lee, there's a 21-day stay limit. Once you get to that point, you have to leave for at least six days before you can return.

I met four semi-permanent residents during my sojourn there; another gentleman was also in residence, but I didn't meet him. 

One couple, who I'll call Chet and Grace, have been living "outdoors" since 2006. In general, they work a triangle among two or three parks in New Mexico, with hotel breaks about once a month. They sold their house in an Albuquerque bedroom community before the housing bubble burst, they owned that house free and clear, so they are self-sufficient for quite a while, as long as they remain frugal. They camp in their truck. They're open to buying some property in New Mexico, at the right price, with the right vibe. They're becoming weary of the outdoor life; the cold of winters lived outdoors and the heat of the summers wear them down.

Another park "resident," a German-American I'll call Fritz, generally sticks with Oliver Lee. During his six-day exiles, he decamps to what's called the "gravel pit" down in the Tularosa Basin, within sight of the park. He has a van and a trailer. There are some security concerns down at the gravel pit, what with meth users/dealers interested in theft or with undocumented aliens who might get nervous if they encounter an unexpected camper on their path north. (Evidently, UDAs, as they're called by some here, ride the rails and get off nearby here when their train goes off to the side while another train passes.)

A park nomad I'll call Bob cycles through various parks in New Mexico that are convenient to his health care providers. He's originally from Michigan, but I think he's been in New Mexico for many years now. 

All of the above are over age 55.  Fritz is over 70; I'm not sure about Bob.

For $180, New Mexico residents can get an annual camping pass that includes day passes. Residents over age 62 pay $100. For $4 extra per night, you can get an electric site. If you were to choose a park with hot showers, flush toilets, and potable water, living the park life has its advantages in economy and simplicity.

I calculated that it cost me about $4 round trip every time I went into Alamogordo from the park. The park nomads often designate a day each week to make the trip, to get groceries or enjoy some outside socialization.

I don't know if this semi-permanent park living is common to every state and national park with campgrounds. I'm intrigued at the lack of information on this subject on the web.

Would I call these folks homeless? No. For one, all have a generally-accepted shelter in the form of a adapted truck, van, or small RV. I believe all have some sort of regular income or a cache of savings. Fritz owned his own business for many years; I assume he, at the very least, receives Social Security benefits. I believe the same is true of Bob (e.g. Social Security).  In other words, I believe they're making a free and informed choice to live outdoors. 

Some tricks of the trade

From Chet and Grace, I learned: 
  • To cool down your sleeping vehicle, spray the roof and sides with water. 
  • To keep ice longer, enclose your cooler in towels and wet them down.
  • Consider a lantern with a 6-volt rechargeable battery instead of a propane lantern. Sturdier than the fragile lanterns with their mantles.

When I was in their shelter (and we shared some of my chacha), I had a Eureka! moment when I saw they had suspended bungee cords from the large bolts screwed into the top horizontal beam of the shelter. From the looped bungee cord, you could hang fabric to dry or tie trash bags. Aha! Until I saw that, I couldn't figure out anything to tie a line to for such things.

Another park "resident"

"Suelo" lives in a national park, as described in this article, Homeless by Choice: How to Live for Free in America.

There was a time when I thought I might buy a small camper and live out of that while traveling about North America, working on an itinerant basis. I don't rule that out in my future.


Cat said...

I think that kind of living is more common than we'd think. I think many of the campground hosts just travel from park to park. The majority of hosts that I have seen are retired. Some stay for just a few weeks or a month and others stay an entire season.

Mzuri said...

Yes, I think that's probably true about a lot of campground hosts. This park also had a campground host. He was rather ... maybe grumpy is a little harsh. Taciturn. He was taciturn.