Sunday, July 30, 2006

Wedding in the Woods

Two of our campers, Zeus and Janean, got married this afternoon. It wasn't your standard issue wedding. The bride and groom were dressed in traditional Indian clothing and the ceremony was presided over by a Blackfoot Indian also in traditional Indian clothing. We could not understand what was being said but the groom got quite emotional. We could not take pictures during the ceremony because taking pictures of he ceremony is a sign of disrepect but we could afterwards if our camera was blessed. I now have a blessed camera. I do not know how long the blessing will last however. Most of Zeus's friends are bikers and quite a number of them were there. I had one of them talked into giving Seven a ride around the campground but she backed out. I think Seven would make a great biker chick. It was very interesting and we met a lot of very interesting people, most of whom were wearing black. One of them had on a black shirt with one of my favorite biker quotes "If you can read this the bitch has fallen off". When we got there the average number of tats per person probably dropped to 10.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Freaky Friday

Friday's are a campground host's big challenge. Everything weird seems to happen on Friday.

A young woman pulls in and asks for a big site. I tell her that Site 43 is just what she wants. She drives over to check it out and comes back and says she wants the site but there a tent is set up in the middle of the site. What? A squatter!! We hadn't sold the site so I tell it is hers. She pays and leaves to put her ticket on the site's post.

We soon are almost 100% full. I keep Site # 12 in reserve just in case we have problems with the squatter in Site 43. Maybe we made a big administrative error. We make mistakes.

About 2 hours later I have premonition and jump in the trusty Gator to go over to check out Site 43. Sure enough the tent owner/squatter was there and was almost 100% set up. I gave him the bad news/good news. Bad news was that he is going to have to pack up and leave and the good news was that I a place for him to go. He tells me that he came by at 8:30 am this morning and we had the blinds down. True. He said that he didn't knock because he didn't want to disturb us. Talk about feeling bad for a guy trying to be decent. He says that he will take Site 12, reluctantly.

Another premonition hits me in the face and I take off for Site 12. Sure enough. More squatters!!!! They said they were just getting ready to come over and pay us. I told them the site had been sold and that they would have to leave the campground. Good thing they were not armed. They started packing things up, reluctantly.

When I get back to the RV I have another brainstorm. The squatters in Site 12 were friends of the people in Site 19 so I jumped in the trusty Gator and sped up to Site 19. The upset squatters were there talking to their friends. I suggested to them that they share a campsite since Site 19 was pretty big. Problem solved.

Cool. 3 campers happy. One host not sweating. Friends made.

Doesn't get much better than this.

Update: The lady who bought Site 43 and started the chain of problems never showed up to claim the site last night. Go figger. And to further test my problem solving skills Seven accidently sells a previously sold site to a camper who has 3 friends on the way up the canyon for dinner. I put him in a group site that is not fully occupied after bribing the group site honcho with some firewood. Two more happy campers.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Hanging Out

I was doing my evening rounds of the campground when I spotted a car in site 15. Site 15's tent site is actually on an island surrounded by two small streams. I walked across the log to the island and began saying "Hello, campground host" to alert the campers to my presence. You never know what might be going on in a tent. I said it 2 or 3 times and finally saw a girl stirring around in what looked like a one-man tent. There was no other camping gear in the site. She said "Just a minute." and I then explained that she would have to pay a fee for her site. She asked me "Is there a fee for just hanging out?" Let's see....... occupying a tent in a campground is "hanging out' and not camping? I don't think so. They (the girl and her boyfriend) packed up and left.

Lost Campers

We were out doing our rounds after returning from Park City. We were collecting money from those who set up while we were away from the campground. We got started rather late and it was dark when we got to one of the last sites.

We stopped and chatted for some time with the couple in that site when a car drove up and parked in a spot near us. Three guys got out and started up the the road away from us. They turned around and came back down the road towards us. I stepped out of the shadows stopped them and identified myself. They said that they had lost their campsite. I described the equipment in a empty site we came across and they said it was theirs. They happily took off for their site - the wrong way. Redman isn't that big so I am sure they would find it - eventually.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Park City, Utah

Not having too much time (one day) for local exploring limits how far and where we can go. Yesterday we did finally get to make a trip we had hoped to find time to get in. We drove over Guardsman Pass to Park City on Utah 190. At the summit the road turns to dirt and becomes one-way in places on the way down the mountain. Our Winnie could make it over the pass but we would have to drive that couple of miles of dirt at 10 mph.

Park City is a ski town. The ski trails have been cut out of every mountain around the city. Upscale condos are everywhere with signs announcing new ones (Starting at just $500,000 popping up along all the main roads. Shops filled with merchantise for furnishing those expensive condos line the pretty and bustling downtown area. We walked Main Street where most of the shops are and had a quick lunch in a deli under a set of 1999 pictures of then President Bill Clinton hunting snow bunnies in Park City. There are lots of flower boxes and an interesting museum that tracked Park City's change from a mining town to a first class ski resort town.

Wednesday's is farmer market day in Park City. I think that most farmer's markets are just outlets for antique/junk/produce dealers that sell cheap goods and produce from big distributors. This market had actual, real live farmers selling real tomatoes and other produce picked that morning. It also had 2 honey sellers. I buy local honey wherever we go. Honey in grocery stores is usually blended foreign honey and is garbage. Why eat that when you can support a local beekeeper who is selling great honey - real clover honey, buckwheat, orange blossom, etc. There is a big difference. I bought a big bottle of clover/thistle honey and a small bottle of buckwheat honey. Honey from different flower blossoms has different flavors. We also bought some yellow cucumbers that I initially thought were some kind of lemon. We got some fresh field corn and pecans too. A family had two ice cream makers set up and was making home made ice cream. They looked like they were selling it as fast as they were making it.

We then headed for I-80 and saw the sign for Utah Olympic Park. We thought the sign said 16 miles and talked about whether we wanted to drive 32 miles that late in the afternoon to see it. Then we looked out the window and could see the park not 16 miles away but 1.6 miles. We did a U-turn and drove to it. Great decision. The park is where the jumping and sledding events were held during the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City. There were zip lines set up and you could ride a bobsled down the course. These were kind of pricey. $65 for one bobsled ride. A professional driver would be in control of the sled which would hit speeds of 70-80 mph. The sleds had wheels on them. We went on a tour of the facility. We were taken up to the top of highest ski jump and the guide told us all about ski jumping. I was relieved to know that I am too heavy to participate. Totally scary. The jumpers hit 90 mph at the end of the jump and fly over 100 yards. He said young teenagers make the best jumpers because they are light and fearless. I am neither. A great place to visit.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

A Toothless Beaver

An 11 year-old + a sharp hatchet + unattentive parents + some aspen trees = $450 fine.

An alert camper knocked on the door and told me that he and his son encountered a boy chopping down aspen trees like a beaver getting ready for the winter on the edge of a meadow in our campground. I immediately jumped in the trusty, but slow Gator for a trip up the mountain to investigate.

Of course, when I asked the parents occupying a site near the meadow about someone chopping down trees they didn't have a clue. Then, after a few more questions, they finally asked their 11 year-old son. He led me to the trees he had felled not more than 100 feet from his parent's campsite. I called the sheriff. It is a crime to chop down trees, alive or dead, in a national forest.

Unfortunately for the parents, our local NF law enforcement officer heard the dispatch and came racing up the canyon in his cruiser with sirens going. He pulled in to the campsite and the sheriff turned the investigation over to him. It took him a very short time to get his pad out and write the parents a $450 ticket for the trees. The parents watched the boy chop down the trees and then told the officer the child did not know it was against the law, that they were not informed that they could not cut down trees, and said that the boy was a boy scout. Very, very, very lame.

And a toothless beaver could have done a better job of felling those aspens.

Friday, July 21, 2006

What does FULL mean?

The cliche "What part of FULL don't you understand?" comes to mind most weekends.

We put the FULL sign up when we are, duh, FULL. FULL means that we do not have any spaces left to sell to our customers. I wonder, and will ask some people today, what does FULL actually mean to the endless line of people who come to our door after seeing at least 3 FULL signs on their way to our door. Is there some way we can make the message more clear like: HEY, DUDE, WE ARE FULL - GO AWAY. NOW?

There is something else at work here. We are the last hope in our canyon for desperate campers who have promised the screaming little ones in the backseat a weekend of camping. Every campground in the lower part of the canyon is FULL too and these poor folks can't believe that they have been shutout and think that this last FULL sign must be a cruel mirage.

In all fairness, Utahians are the most polite people on earth (and their kids are generally very well-mannered and I have never seen any of them screaming in the backseat) and when these kind souls gently ask if we are full it is not as if some self-important, self-entitled New Yorker was in front of, barking "How dare you to fill up the campground before we got here." Thank God. But it is annoying nevertheless.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Good Times Bad Times Gimme Some of Dat

Some days of campground hosting are funny. Some are sad. And some are just interesting. Today was all three.

We close the gate to the campground at 8:30 pm but do not lock it. We have a tire ripper sign on the exit. We have tire rippers but they haven't been installed so our 'gate' is largely a joke.

Tonight a van rolled up to the closed gate, stopped, opened the gate, then drove through it. I saw all that happen from our RV which faces the gate and jumped up to tell them to close the gate. Seven was outside and flagged the car down. I was still uncharacteristically yelling at them as Seven was talking to them. The person driving was one of wonderfull leaders of a huge group of young Mormon women who were spending most of the week at Redman. After Seven explained that I had been sick for the past couple of days and was not myself the lady kindly said "you really have your hands full there'.

Two testosterone-filled male humanoids were unloading their two SUVs at their site and took offense that a couple of cars were parked in 'their' parking spot next to their camp site and called us, the friendly hosts, to have the cars moved. The parking spot could easily hold 5 or 6 cars. The offending cars belonged to a couple of the Mormon ladies helping with some of the evening events for a group of young women and were parking there because I told them they could. The camp site the humanoids chose is one of the last ones we usually sell so I did not think that there would be a problem since we weren't even close to full. I took off in the Gator to check it out. I got there and the guy, from New York I presume, started in on how he paid for a site and didn't want others parking there.

I agreed with him and told him that I thought that the ladies who owned the cars would be leaving shortly so it shouldn't be a problem for them. He told me he wanted them moved NOW. I told him that I would probably have to go to the other side of the campground and then run the ladies down because I had no idea who owned the cars. He started in on how I should have the license number and name of every person who came into the camp ground blah blah. So I reluctantly got out and went over to the next site and asked the ladies if they knew who owned the cars. One lady, a very attractive young mom, said one was hers and, with an annoyed look, she would go move it. I asked her if she wanted me to go with her. She quietly said yes. She walked up to the humanoids, pulled on her hair a bit, smiled sweetly, and told them she was there to move the cars. After some stammering and feet shuffling the humanoids decided that the cars could stay. The young mom turned, smiled at me, I mouthed a silent 'thanks', and she happily walked backed to her camp site. I didn't say a word to the humanoids.

One of the young Mormon women knocked on our door late this afternoon and told me that she and some friends found a fawn trapped in the mud near a small creek. She was really concerned that the fawn had been abandoned by its mom. Seven followed her to find the fawn. Seven wound up tripping twice, falling in the creek, and tearing her pants along the way. Meanwhile I called our boss and the sheriff. We had 3 sheriff cars respond and our boss was here in 5 minutes. They pulled the fawn out of the mud, dried it, and put it in the sunshine to warm up. The policy here with wild animals is to let nature take its course. Hopefully the fawn's mother will find before the coyotes do.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Workcamping at Redman Revisited

After 3 weeks we are calling ourselves seasoned workcampers. As rookie campground hosts we have experienced a lot, not everything, but a lot so far.

Redman is at 8,300 feet so spring and summer come late. There is still a little nip in the air when we wake up each morning. A little nip in the air may be different for people who have lived the last 8 years in the Valley of the Sun. Summer morning temperatures here in the summer time may equal Phoenix's winter lows. It feels good. We haven't had to run our AC once. We bought a small ceramic heater to warm things up in the RV in the morning rather than use our precious propane.

The air is super clean except when there is traffic on the dirt road next to the host site and the wind is blowing towards us. When I step out in the morning for my morning walk around the campground (about 1.5 miles) it smells fresh except when there are deer or moose nearby. My nose, in this fresh air environment, is much more alert. Usually I can smell deer or moose before I can see them. The vegetation has grown up so much that the deer and moose are sometimes hard to spot. Sometimes all I can see is twitching ears above the willows or young aspen.

Tent campers are, as I mentioned earlier, real campers. They are generally the cleanest too. When we make our rounds we stop at recently vacated sites and police up the site. Rarely do we encounter more than a few scraps of paper or one of those bread wrapper fasteners at tent camping sites. Popup tent campers are a close second. RVers cook and eat in their RVs usually so they are pretty neat too. The worst slobs in our campgrounds are very young adults that are camping with their friends. They treat the campground the same way they treat their living quarters I imagine.

We have finally encountered some vandalism. Our #2 toilet (we have 5 modern toilets in the camp ground) was plugged up. I feel that if a restroom is well maintained and clean even the idiots who enjoy destroying public property won't vandalize it. Our #2 has had problems with leaking and when people come in to use it the dirt on their boots and shoes becomes mud and soon the floor is a mud hole. It looks terrible and that leads to vandalism in my opinion. Our other, properly working, toilets haven't had any problems even though they have been heavily used by young males. Young, testosterone-laden males seem to have a toilet destroying gene. Does trashing a restroom impress young women?

If you stop in at Redman to camp, the best sites are 40, 11, 23, and 9 (part of group site 7-8-9). 40 is the best site except that it is not near the modern toilets. Only the group sites can be reserved. Everything else is first-come-first served.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Work camping (workkamping or working while camping or camping while working)

We are workcamping or workkamping at Redman Campground in the Wasatch-Cache National Forest this summer. I will explain our job so that those seeking information about working camping can read about our experiences in order to make a decision about whether they want to workcamp in a similar situation.

We were hired by American Land & Leisure of Orem, Utah to be campground hosts at the Redman Campground. Redman wasn't opened until June 22nd because of the snow that this part of the Wasatch-Cache NF receives. When we arrived there was still snow on the ground in some places.

AL&L runs the Redman Campground and its sister campground Spruces in Big Cottonwood Canyon east of Salt Lake City for the National Park Service. AL&L hires and fires campground personnel and provides the adminstrative services to keep the camp ground up and running. This relieves the Forest Service of a lot of headaches. Instead of riding herd on a bunch of flighty and crotchety campground hosts that they would have to hire, train, and supervise all they have to do is call Orem when there is a problem with a campground host punching out a customer for knocking on their door at 10:30 pm.

This is our first campground hosting experience. When we backed into our site at Redman we were as green as the huge pines surround us. Our supervisors, Dan and Jo Leach, took us under their wing and, as former hosts of Redman, showed us the ropes.

We were, through no fault of Don and Jo, thrown to the wolves so to speak because we got there and one week later were faced with 22 campers lined up at the gate, waiting to get a spot to camp in. We had worked all week to get things ready but we really weren't. We had a lot of physical problems with the campground that needed to be fixed and weren't. The campers never ever complained, to my surprise, about conditions. They were happy to have such a beautiful place up and running for the summer and would overlook minor problems that I, being inexperienced, thought were major problems. Then after the hectic opening we faced the 4th of July weekend.

Our positions are paid positions. We were suppose to work 45 hours total between us in return for a full-hook up spot and $5.15/hour. These positions are not volunteer positions. One of our first problems was that 45 hours for 43 sites is not enough time to do the job. It is hard to break down our hours at this point because of opening the campground then turning around and facing a major holiday weekend right after it. Both periods are unusual and required lots of work. We worked 55 hours the first week and 57.5 the second week. At this point it seems like we have almost full time jobs. This is not what we wanted or expected. We are hanging in though because we realize that we have endured two of the worse high traffic days for a campground - opening day and a major holiday. If we continue to log more than combined 40 hours a week we will be really disappointed. If we wanted a full-time job we could certainly find one for more than $5.15 per hour although probably not in such a beautiful place.

Serving as campground hosts has a lot of positive aspects and just a few negative ones. There are problems at times that crop up - usually because we do not have any spaces left to put people. Our paperwork has gotten us in trouble a couple of times because we assigned two groups to the same spot or didn't properly note when someone was leaving. Our signage was causing us headaches too because people did not know where to go or what to do. We are slowly straightening those problems out by refining our check-in procedures and by putting up clear and concise signs that people can read from their car window when they enter the campground.

Our duties involve a lot of contact with campers. In our campground we have primarily tent campers, a few pop-up campers, and a few motor home 'campers'. We have no amendities except for communal toilets. There aren't showers. Tent campers expect little except a level site and a fire pit. They are tickled pink to get a site at all because of the demand. Some are disappointed that there is not a reservation system for the sites. Group sites are reservable through ReserveUSA for a fee. The people we encounter each day are great. This Utah and most people are polite, understanding when there is a problem, and make few if any demands. After this we will never host in New York. We have been spoiled by the good people of Utah.

Our daily schedule depends on how full the campground is. If we are full we can do little but turn people away who can't read the "Campground is Full" sign at the gate. Once we are full we can do pretty much what we want. The campground is usually full on Friday and Saturday night. During the week we might have as few as five spots occupied. There can be a constant stream of people pulling in to register or We do 2 daily tasks even on our day off - our 7:30 pm check of the campground and a morning check of the restrooms (5 of them plus 2 pit toilets). When we do the morning check we check vacant sites for trash and dig out the fire pits as well as inspect the restrooms. Since this campground is in Utah, there has been no restroom or campsite vandalism and most people leave their sites very clean even though we are 15 miles from a major metropolitan area. We have nightly book work where I total the day's receipts. That can take up to an hour to complete.

There have been lots of interesting situations and people we have encountered so far.

9:30 pm, temperature 41 degrees and dropping, and there is a knock at the door. "Can I borrow a blanket?" says a shivering customer.

We pass a camp site during our rounds and a man runs out and asks, "Do you have a bar of soap I can buy?"

A cute young lady pulls up to the host site, gets out, and walks over and asks, "Can you set my tent up for me?"

We visit a camp site and as I sit in the Gator Seven walks over to see how the campers are doing. The husband comes over and gives her a big hug. Then the wife almost runs over and also gives her a hug. Seven had given them one of the best camping sites in the campground after they were sure that we wouldn't have one for them.

Gate is closed, 10:30 pm on Saturday night, all of our shades in the RV are pulled, drive sign says "Campground is Full", and there is a knock at the door.

Man pulls up in his Jeep and steps around to the back of it. He pulls out a 8" diameter log that is 8 feet long and says, "Can you use your chainsaw to cut this up for me?"

After a big rain the night before there is a soft knock at the door. I look out and do not see anyone so I open the door. A small girl stands there and asks if I have seen their cooler in the stream. The stream washed it away during the storm. I say no but if they walk the banks they should find it pretty quickly because of all the logs across the stream.

Been invited for cocktails and for beer.

Let a girl use our electrical outlet to blend her coffee.

Stopped and talked to a man sitting in a camp chair who was scanning the trees with his binoculars looking for a three-toed woodpecker.

Work camping for us has been fun so far. If you are reading this to learn about camp ground hosting, we recommend that you choose your place and who you work for carefully. Our supervisors and the company we work for are first class and that makes getting questions answered and getting support when there are problems not a hassle. Be careful about selecting an assignment without understanding who the customers are and where they are coming from. All it takes is one or two bad apples every weekend to ruin a great experience and if you do not have support from your supervisors, company, and the local law enforcement you could be in physical danger or have to spend all your time on enforcement of rules. If possible talk to someone who has worked at the campground or camped there in the past.