Discover the intriguing life of RV-ers

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— Ever been on a road trip in a four-cylinder subcompact car and found yourself in awe of the land yachts that prowl the great American highway?

Imagine yourself cruising along I-80, coming up on Elko, Nev., at 77 mph in an aging Nissan Stanza, Mazda GLC or maybe a Ford Escort. If you're lucky, the car's air conditioning is working.

Suddenly you are overtaken by a 65-foot Fleetwood towing a Jeep Grand Cherokee.

Nothing quite symbolizes America's wealth like these motels on wheels that seem to announce, "To hell with the price of gas, I'm retired, dammit, and I'm riding in style." At the same time, If I'm honest, I feel a little envious when one of those big pastel and chrome boats floats by. I find myself wishing for an invitation to come inside and play gin rummy as the miles and the gallons of premium unleaded evaporate in the desert wind.

I got off on this tangent over the weekend after re-reading my colleague Gary Salazar's article in the Jan. 4 Steamboat Today that carried the headline "Campground plans reviewed."

Maybe you read it, maybe you turned the page. But I exclaimed out loud when I read it. To summarize, longtime local agriculturalist Ray Selbe would like to develop a campground specifically for recreational vehicles/motor homes/land yachts seven miles west of Steamboat Springs in a level area along U.S. 40 known locally as (what else?) Selbe Flats. Eventually, Mr. Selbe would like to develop as many as 53 campground spaces, but he plans to start with about 29 spaces.

So what's the big deal?

Mr. Selbe's plans dovetail almost perfectly with some of the remarks made by Hal Rothman during his keynote speech at Steamboat's Economic Summit last June.

Rothman is a history professor from the University of Las Vegas Nevada. He has written books about the way tourism has reshaped western communities.

Anyway, back to RVs. During his speech, Rothman made this remark while describing the role aging baby boomers will play in the local tourism market: "Retirement is the most incredible bonanza for tourism in the next 30 years." And then, Rothman said, "You're going to need bigger parking lots, because they're going to be comin' in RVs. One of these years, you're going to wake up and your main street will be lined with RVs."

I have no idea if Selbe attended the speech, but if he didn't, he's certainly plugged into the same trends that Rothman is tracking.

I set out on the great "information highway" last night to see what else I could learn about RV-ers and discovered an entire subculture.

Do you know that there are Internet chat rooms devoted to discussing the relative merits of Wal-Mart parking lots in all 50 states as regards their suitability for parking an RV overnight? It seems Wal-Mart, at the corporate level, welcomes RV-ers. But there are individual stores that frown on the practice, and it is outlawed by ordinance in some municipalities.

For example, in La Quinta, Calif., one RV-er reports, police may show up at 3 a.m. to boot you out of the Wal-Mart parking lot, so be forewarned.

I even found a list of do's and don'ts for kings and queens of the road, who opt for a free night parked outside the ubiquitous discount store.

"Don't stay if your RV has a leak in a waste holding tank, or is dripping any oil or other automotive fluid."

Hmmmm. sounds like good advice.

If you'd like to try renting an RV, go to www.bobsrvrentals.com (no foolin'), and if you'd like an interactive 360-degree tour of the bedroom of something called a "Minnie Winnie" (presumably a smaller Winnebago), go to www.winnebagoind.com.

Another great source of information is a tabloid newspaper called Gypsy Journal. It's published by Nick and Terry Russell, who have become "fulltimers" RV-ers who can never go home again, because they sold their home to buy their RV.

"When we find some neat little out of the way town that interests us, we share it with our readers," Terry Russell writes. "Maybe some day another overworked couple out there will look at each other over the kitchen table at the end of a long, stressful day, and say to themselves, 'If they can do it, we can too.'"

Ray Selbe's plans to develop a new RV park west of Steamboat have a ways to go the Planning Commission likes his landscaping plan. But the commissioners want to get answers to questions about appropriate zoning for the land and the impact it would have on traffic traveling on U.S. 40.

As far as I'm concerned, it looks like an excellent spot for a shady RV park. And besides, I'm not sure we can fight the tide of 76 million baby boomers inflicted with acute cases of wanderlust.

So, look for me out on the interstate this side of Elko sometime in April.

We've graduated from that 1981 Sentra with no air conditioning. But it won't be me in that Fleetwood Bounder 32K. Not yet, anyway.

Tom Ross is a longtime Steamboat resident. His column is published every Monday in Steamboat Today.

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