Archive for Culture and Local Flavor

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I’m happy to share this gem of a place that my husband and I discovered during our cross-country travels. Red Feather Lakes is located in the mountains west of Fort Collins and is our number one destination during summer. Here’s my article published in GoColorado that gives away this best kept secret!

After two epic years of road-tripping across America by RV, we found our perfect spot for a summertime base camp in Red Feather Lakes near Fort Collins.

Between 2007 and 2009, we passed the turnoff to this hidden gem at least three times. Whenever we traveled to points north on U.S. Highway 287, we had no idea that beyond the rolling ranch lands that drifted west toward Walden lay deep blue mountain lakes, dramatic rocky outcroppings and a little frontier village that time forgot. If it weren’t for the affordable land showcased in local real estate magazines, we would have kept on searching for our dream property. Instead, we found exactly what we were looking for.

Red Feather Lakes is a place to escape the crowds.
Red Feather Lakes is a place to escape the crowds.

After telling friends that we finally found a place in the mountains near Red Feather Lakes, they asked, “Why do you live there? There’s nothing to do there!”

“Exactly!” I replied.

Red Feather Lakes is a place where northern Colorado locals visit to escape the crowds. While the tourists play in nearby destinations like Rocky Mountain National Park or kayakers swarm the Poudre River, laid-back locals quietly point their wagons — and ATVs — west on County Road 74E (Red Feather Lakes Road) to find solitude and summer fun.

Nestled in the Mummy Mountain Range at an elevation of 7,890 feet, this rugged alpine region was known as Mitchell Lakes in Colorado’s earliest days. But in the 1920s, the village of Red Feather Lakes was officially established and named in honor of Princess Tsianina Redfeather, a greatly admired Native American mezzo-soprano opera star whose great-great-great grandfather died nearby after a brutal battle between the Cherokees and the Pawnees. In celebration of the acclaimed singer’s connections, local lakes were re-christened with Native American names such as “Hiawatha” and “Shagwa.”

As word of this secluded getaway grew and nearby Estes Park boomed, local real estate developers dreamed of creating their own resort destination town. But development was slow, even after electricity came to the region in 1952. Dozens of quaint, lake-front log cabins were built and a few essential businesses were established, but the grandiose plans of creating another Estes Park never materialized. Maybe it’s because of the one-way-in, one-way-out paved road to get here, but today Red Feather Lakes remains virtually the same as it has been for the last 60 years.

Red Feather Lakes is an easy 45-minute drive from downtown Fort Collins, making it a great weekend destination. The community is surrounded by thousands of acres of the Roosevelt National Forest, where trout fishing, no-wake boating, hiking, riding and camping are the order of the day.

. .  . read more at GoColorado.com!

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My fulltime, permanent road trip often takes me to some of the most offbeat and quirky parts of North America. In this post, I provide my perspective on the permanent transient encampment known as Slab City, in the Southern California desert.

Among RVers, no other camping area evokes such intense reactions as Slab City. People either love it, or hate it. There is no gray area among this 640 acre dismantled military base near the Salton Sea.

Which way to Slab City at gun turret?Made famous by its appearance in the movie “Into the Wild,” Slab City wasn’t on our radar until our friend Skinny Chef asked if we wanted to meet her there. Then coincidentally, I found this blog entry, by a young RVing couple we met back in South Carolina;

“The movie depicts Slab City as this really cool RV hippie community, where people of all ages hang out – peace, love, happiness, rock and roll, and all that. Well yesterday, we drove two hours to Slab City and nothing could be further from the truth.

Slab City is an RV slum, pure and simple. It’s actually really sad – people living in tents and abandon vehicles. There were even remnants of burned down RVs strewn all over the place. It’s amazing to think that people actually live this way in the US – and it’s only 80 miles from swanky Palm Springs.”

Low Road Slab City Loners On WheelsThis intrigued me. Liz is a nice person and I like her a lot, but the two of us are quite different. I’m crunchy granola and like to keep things simple, while she’s a high flyin’ New Yorker who’s into manicures, and the glamourous life. Once I saw what she thought of Slab City, I figured if she hated it, I’d probably love it.

I was right.

Slab City: The Last Free Place

Do come here with an open mind if you plan to visit. Many people we know would be completely offended by the post-apocalyptic look of the place.

To come here requires someone who is willing to look beyond the surface, to scratch a little deeper at a situation to learn the real story.

What Slab City Is:

  • Free camping. It’s a spot of abandoned, state-owned land where hundreds of travelers from all over the world come to stay for free, some permanently, others just to ride out winter. Call us squatters, if you will, since nobody has “official” permission to be here.
  • Serious Boondocking. There are no facilities whatsoever: no electricity, water, or trash. Nothing. The closest dump station is 8 miles away.
  • Kinda trashy, in places. Yes, there is some garbage and abandoned RVs around. The state doesn’t care about this spot, and the closest city refuses to clean it up since residents don’t pay to be here. It’s up to campers to be responsible for taking trash to town, and like any neighborhood, some people are better about this than others.
  • Very Social. There is much to do and see here, including social clubs, a couple of concert stages, a library, an 18 hole golf course, a church, hot springs, and more. We’ve been to two potlucks, and seem to be doing something every night of the week. We’ve never been so active in one location before.Off Grid Solar RV Boondocking at Slab City

What Slab City Isn’t:

  • Lawless. Contrary to how the media portrays it, I don’t feel in any more in danger here than I do in most cities. Sure, there are some sketchy looking characters, but if you keep away from them, they’ll most likely keep away from you. The county sheriff makes regular runs through here, and Border Patrol is constantly driving through.
  • Depressing. There is more creativity here than any tidy suburban neighborhood I’ve been to. Residents have contributed many hours of labor to build free amenities like the golf course (with free equipment!), concert stages, church, or the public shower down near the springs. I’m impressed that people would do so much with so little, in such an unforgiving desert environment. Now if they could only get it together to do something about the trash . . .
  • Mainstream. It’s as if someone took a sampling of every kind of ethnicity, personality type and mental disorder, and shipped them here. There are international travelers, old folks, musicians, fulltime Rvers, wandering travelers and offroad enthusiasts, all camped out in the same area as drifters, people struggling with addictions, mental illness and/or homelessness. Everyone seems to get along, following a live and let live attitude.

Church of the Sub Genius Slab City Art CampThe desert scenery outside Slab City is beautiful, surrounded by a rugged mountain range. On most days, you can look east to the Chocolate Mountains, about 2 miles away, and watch the US Navy spend your tax dollars by practicing bombing runs and playing war games in the air. We took two hour bike rides without seeing another soul.

The other day, Jim went to see Solar Mike, about our solar system. Mike asked Jim “How long are you staying?” Jim replied with “oh, a week or two.” Mike looked at Jim with a knowing look and chuckled… “Yeah, right.”

I think he could tell just by looking at us. The Slab City lifestyle is agreeing with us, and we’re going to find it hard to break camp this week.Slab City Community Sign

During my fulltime RVing travels, I occasionally review RV parks for our readers.

Last week we discovered Lake Francis Resort thanks to our hard copy of the Woodalls Directory, after trying so hard to find a place that wasn’t booked up for Father’s Day weekend. Located in the Gold Country Foothills about 2 hours from Sacramento, we had no idea what to expect.

Lake Francis Resort, Dobbins CAPulling into the registration area, we saw a kitschy old west style restaurant, saloon, theater area and swimming pool with lawns and chuck wagons. My first thought was “uh oh, we’ve arrived at Wally World.” We drove back up the hill to the campground. What a relief to see that, as far as RVing goes, it was real camping. Only the pull through spots were paved, the rest were gravel and dirt spots, with lots and lots of shade to help stay cool in the hot afternoons (not so good for satellite internet/TV connections). Although the sites are almost a little too close together when the place is crowded, at less busy times the resort layout offers a lot more elbow room. It reminded me a lot of a great place I used to go to with my family as a kid, Camp Edison Shaver Lake, just outside of Fresno CA.

Reasonable Rates, Lots to Do, and No Powerboats
Now, RV experts say that whenever you see the word “Resort” in the name of a place to stay, it’s usually just an excuse to jack up the rates because the place has a swimming pool. We definitely didn’t feel like we were being had, and the rate was a reasonable $35 a night for up to four people, two cars, and two dogs. For the non RVers Lake Francis also has lots of tent camping spots, cabins and yurts too. The restrooms are sparkling, the showers are free, and the washers and dryers in the laundry room were nicer than the ones I used to own! Staff is super friendly too.

A great thing about this resort is that the lake is smallish, and powerboats of any kind are prohibited. That leaves out a huge segment of the boozin’, obnoxious sunburnt party crowd, which is fine by us. The crowd it attracts? Familys. Loads of them with kids, most under 15. If you have kids and have never camped before, this is the perfect place to try it.

Family Camping at it’s Best

All for a Great Cause
It’s so appropriate that the resort is owned by Environmental Alternatives, a non-profit agency that provides foster homes for underprivileged Northern California kids. All proceeds go toward sending EA’s foster kids to summer camp at the resort (fear not, the summer camp is located on the other side of the resort, so you won’t be in the thick of all that crazy kid activity!).

Normally, I’d shy away from any place that drew in breeders and screaming toddlers, but after hanging out there a few days, I realized that we were interacting with more people there than anywhere else we’ve been to so far. It was a nice change of pace from the pull-through RV resorts targeting the 55 and over crowd that tend to stay inside and watch TV all day. At Lake Francis, the kids were running all over the place, which brought out the parents for dog walks and such, making it feel very alive. And by 9 pm, the kids were pooped out, and the campground was silent. Nice.

The only downside? We had a really funky power supply at our site, and they should have recycling bins as well as lids on the trashcans. And they really ought to get rid of, or at least mellow out the one super bright “street light” that threw off stadium lighting on our site all night long.

Overall, I highly recommended it as a nice place to stay for a few days when you’re trying to beat the heat in the Sacramento area.