Monday, February 20, 2017

Finding our way and/or the road not taken and/or all who wander are not lost

Guest content by SD.

We've been asked a number of times how we find out about the the places we go and how do we find our way there.  It's not always easy and I'm sure we miss many places that we would find enjoyable, but here's a quick run down on the resources we use.

There are two general catagories we are looking for, interesting places (parks, refuges, seafood, places to camp, etc.) and the roads to get there.  One of the first things we do upon entering any state is stop at the welcome center.  We usually prefer to stay off the interstates, so often we have to hit an interstate specifically to do this.  Here we always get the old fashioned paper road map.  These maps are a valuable resource because they differentate between road types, i.e. paved, dirt, four lane or two lane.  This is something that Google maps doesn't do as well as it should.  
Even Old, Old, Old maps can be useful.
Another resource at the welcome center is that information is available on attractions in the state.  Let it be said that we are horrible tourist, we admit it everytime we do a typical touristy thing.  But still we try.  The staff is generally very friendly and helpful. There is also often information on state and national parks, campgrounds, restaurants and anything else visitors to the state might want to do.

This first stop generally gives us the necessary information to begin our explorations.  Another resource we rely on is Google maps.  This gives us a pretty good map, plus you can find important things like grocery stores, campgrounds, coffee shops and reviews of these places.  The reviews require some experience to parse for our tastes, but we find them useful to at least miss the horible places.  We have also been known to stop at AAA offices to get maps, although the maps handed out by the state tend to be better.

These two resources, old school road maps and Google maps, are generally what we rely upon to find our way to places.

Google maps are useful, our route from Alaska to Florida.

The bigger trick is to find the places we would like to visit.  For this we rely upon multiple resources.  One way is to look at the maps and see if there are any interesting looking locations. Big green areas are often interesting.  To find campsites we also use multiple resources old and new.  AAA has Woodall's guide book to campgrounds.  This gives to the particulars of campgrounds, broken down by state and nearest town and has a rating system for various metrics.  We also use a smartphone app "RvParky" which also gives reviews of the campgrounds.  There's other smart phone apps we sometimes look at, but RvParky seems to be the most useful and most used.  We have also downloaded a book "Camping with the Corps" to find USArmy Corps of Engineers campgrounds.  These tend to be great campgrounds are are a really good deal, especially with my US Government Senior Pass. One of the few perks of being a senior.   Another book we downloaded is a guide to National Parks.  I have to admit as a casual visitor, not as a volunteer staying for a few months, we tend to stay away from National Parks.  They attract a lot of people who are not hikers and campers but are attracted to National Parks for some reason.  Some of our worst experiences have been in National Park campgrounds, and to be fair some our best experiences too.  Especially if you get into the back country.

An Army Corps of Engineer campsite.

Another resource is just old fashioned asking friends.  We're a nation of tourists and we almost always find one or two friends who have been there.  Additionally there are places we want to see.   We've also joined "Harvest Host."  For a small fee to get to contact local farms who have joined and alow one or two campers at a time to stay for free.  These are undeveloped, usually just a grassy spot with no utilities and you are expected to purchase some farm products.

A Harvest Host site at a farm in Florida.

Then there are a few very specific resources.  For our summer in Alaska Kelly's cousin (Thanks again!) gave us a copy of the "Milepost" which gives mile by mile descriptions of the roads to, from and in Alaska; including campgrounds, stores, gas, etc.  Additionally we bought a book about campgrounds in BC, Yukon and Alaska which was very useful.

As you can see a significant part of this wandering about the country is figuring out where to go and how to get there.  So far we've done pretty well and seen a lot of really great places and met some interesting people.  Only a few places have been a bit scary.  Let's hope we can continue the streak.

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