In early January a ridge of low pressure pushed its way into California and brought with it an unseasonably cold blast of winter weather, a particularly harrowing experience for residents of the City of Angels where an average low of 47 degrees Fahrenheit -- as opposed to the 39 degrees they were then experiencing --is the norm. Sadly, the rest of the U.S. was faring little better so our planned RV road trip from Los Angeles in California to Baton Rouge in Louisiana -- en route to Aunt Louise’s 90th birthday celebrations in the Pelican State -- looked like it might prove to be a particularly frigid affair.
Although I’ve taken the RV to a number of out-of-state destinations during winter and early spring -- including the Great Basin, Bryce Canyon, Zion Canyon, the Greater Yellowstone area and Cedar Breaks -- I’ve clearly become accustomed to the Golden State’s unique geography which allows RVers to visit some of the state’s prettiest snow-capped destinations -- like Yosemite Valley, Sequoia, and Kings Canyon --and then return to more balmy temperatures – sometimes within the space of just a few hours. However, this particular journey was to provide no respite from the deep freeze that had apparently gripped the entire nation.
With a diesel oil change and all RV systems and tire pressures checked, courtesy of the local family-owned RV parts and repair facility -- Torrance, CA-based Meyers RV – our party of four set off on an extended RV road trip on the morning of January 12. Although Miss Esther’s birthday party was scheduled for January 19, we had actually only set aside a couple of days to cover any unforeseen eventualities and unlike previous road trips -- which my wife usually planned with military precision -- I’d elected to wing it when it came to booking campground accommodations due to the long hours that I would be driving and my inability to predict when I’d get tired (my wife had recently undergone foot surgery so I’d be the sole driver for this road trip).
On day one, we covered a creditable 450 miles and pulled into Picacho KOA, near Tuscon, AZ late that evening. Operated by a husband and wife team, Jerry and Frankie Cross, the KOA campground is located a stone’s throw from the I-10 and offers a great pancake breakfast (all profits go to KOA Care Camps) and an excellent evening meal courtesy of Frankie's Chuckwagon (the 6 oz. steak fillet was excellent). The campground facilities are outstanding and the heated restrooms and showers were especially appreciated when the overnight temperature plunged to a glacial 21 degrees.
Whilst there’s some noise from the freeway and the railroad -- historically nearly all major U. S. highways in Arizona were laid out alongside railways -- it’s not enough to significantly disturb your stay. A Wi-Fi signal that extends beyond the main building to encompass the whole campground and perhaps the addition of cable TV (though there were plenty of terrestrial channels available) would definitely add to the marketability of this campground though good eats, good company, and the owners’ adoption of a lot of felines and canines make this a stand-out rest stop in my book.
If you can spare the time, the Rooster Cogburn Ostrich Ranch atop Picacho Peak -- a local attraction that we took in on the return leg of the journey -- was well worth the $5 per head admission fee (including animal treats) and its psychotic Ostriches, Sicilian donkeys, high rise Boer goats, Rainbow Lorikeets (and seasonal monster truck tours) provide great family-friendly entertainment.
We hit the road again on Sunday morning, passing through Benson -- I had camped there (at the Benson KOA) during a 2010 visit to Arizona’s stunning Kartchner Caverns State Park -- en route to the Van Horn KOA in Texas. This proved to be the longest single leg of the trip at a distance of 484 miles and the coldest overnight stay with the temperature falling to around 18 degrees Fahrenheit. The latter resulted in a heavy hoar frost, so we woke up to see the desert flora painted with a beautiful soft white rime. Our late arrival and the freezing weather prevented us from testing out the on-site shower and restroom facilities whilst an illness to the breakfast cook on the return leg meant that the epicurious amongst our party were unable to sample the campground’s morning repast. This campground, too, is close to I-10 but both street and railway noise would prove acceptable to all except light sleepers. Cable TV is available, as is Wi-Fi though the bandwidth could do with some improvement.
Day three took us from Van Horn to the San Antonio KOA and added another 435 miles to our trip total. I’d camped at this urban KOA -- located just five miles from downtown San Antonio -- on a couple of prior occasions and got to sample some of the city’s many attractions - including the River Walk and The Alamo. Located next to Salado Creek and set amongst 40 acres of Pecan trees the San Antonio KOA offers full hookup (50/30 amp) RV/Tent campsites along with Kabins and Kamping Lodges. This is a quiet campground with all the facilities that one would expect from a KOA campground including restrooms, showers, laundry, swimming pool, spa, chuckwagon, and a store. Wi-Fi is free but cable and phone services are not. There’s not only excellent access to public transport right outside the campground but also the Salado Creek Greenaway -- a paved cycle, walking/running path -- that runs down the edge of the KOA which is perfect if you just want to chill out.
On day four, we pointed the RV towards Galveston Island on the Texas’ Gulf Coast, a destination that became familiar to TV viewers around the globe after Hurricane Ike blew through the island back in September 2008 leaving a trail of devastation in its wake. At only 251 miles distance, this was a short hop and once we got through the traffic in Houston, the drive down to the Gulf proved to be relatively painless. Linked to the mainland via the West Bay causeway (or by way of SH 322 to the south), Galveston is a 27-mile-long barrier island that’s oriented parallel to the mainland. Barely seven feet above sea level, this flat and featureless spit of land is said to enjoy a subtropical climate that -- outside of the island’s famous Moody Gardens -- was entirely absent during our somewhat chilly and overcast winter visit. However, the island’s aura of genteel decay -- similar to that of so many venerable Victorian era English seaside resorts -- was lifted by the vivid splashes of colour provided by the island’s signature stilt homes. Although an overnight stop at Galveston Island State Park had certain attractions (a view not shared by my father), its lack of pull-through spots finally decided us on a stay at the nearby Jamaica Beach RV Park. This proved to be an exceptionally well maintained family-oriented campground with outstanding facilities including beautifully appointed restrooms and showers – it even boasts its very own Pirates Treasure Adventure Golf Course. Modern paved pull-through 30 and 50 amp RV spots include sewer, cable TV, and Wi-Fi.
For the final leg of our journey -- a 329 mile run from Galveston to Geismar, LA – we headed to the Galveston-Port Bolivar ferry (a free service that’s capable of handling both RVs and a “toad” vehicle) stopping on the far side of the bay for a photo op at the historic 65-foot-high Bolivar Point Lighthouse, before following the Gulf Coast by way of Port Arthur and Cameron (crossing on another free ferry) and then turning north through the Cameron Prairie National Wildlife Refuge to link up with the I-10. With the exception of the industrial conurbation of Port Arthur, this was a great drive with plenty of wading birds and raptors -- from pelicans and herons to cormorants and red-shouldered hawks -- to a pod of bottlenose dolphins frolicking in the Calcasieu deep-water shipping channel at the Cameron ferry.
Winter RV Camping Observations
The trip reminded me of a trick employed by cold weather RVers who utilise a full-length curtain -- to separate the cab of Class C or Class B from the rest of the coach in order to provide a barrier against the cold that seeps in through the cab. Although I don’t currently have a fixed curtain rail attached to the cab ceiling of the RV (a Class C Fourwinds Kodiak Chateau), I was able to jerry rig a blanket-based airlock system. A fixed curtain over the entry/exit door would also be a good idea for future cold weather trips.
I’d intended to purchase an electric heater for the trip to help supplement the propane-based heating system but actually never got round to it. I’ve subsequently rectified this omission by picking up a Bristol Stove Electric Heater via the Camping World (CW) website. It scored well in the CW user reviews, looks very homey, and should help conserve the rig’s propane supply on future trips. A dehumidifier -- to help control condensation in the RV (we had four people on board) -- would also have been a good idea.
It’s not only considerably harder for a battery to crank during cold weather but the efficiency of your batteries may also become an issue, especially when one considers that a decrease of just 10 degrees in the ambient air temperature can result in a fifty percent reduction in battery output. Low voltage issues can impact ancillary RV systems like hydraulic jacks. Always check your batteries before and during a trip and consider adding a small solar array to help keep them topped up. I use a pair of roof-mounted 68 watt Energy Del Sol solar mats to achieve this objective.
The cold weather also impacted external systems like the diesel generator which stubbornly refused to crank - I imagine due to a combination of low voltage and cold oil. The weather was so chilly that I even plugged in the built in engine block heater for the motorhome’s Duramax diesel engine.
Road Trip Facts
States Traversed: 5 (California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, and Louisiana) Total Miles: 3796 │ Daily Miles: Los Angeles to Picacho 450 miles │ Picacho to Van Horn 484 miles │Van Horn to San Antonio 435 miles │ San Antonio to Galveston 251 miles │ Galveston to Geismar 329 miles │ Return leg dropped Galveston and went straight to San Antonio - 478 miles │ Cost of 7 nights RV Camping: $ 303.72 (an average of $43.38 per night for the RV, toad vehicle and 4 people) │ Cost of Propane (for 13 days): $57.04 │Cost of Diesel: $1419.73 │ Road Trip Map: http://goo.gl/maps/yz7on │
- Picacho/Tucson NW KOA, 18428 S. Picacho Hwy, Picacho, AZ 85141Tel: 800-562-4186
- Van Horn KOA, South Highway 90 East, Van Horn, TX 79855 Tel: 800-562-0798
- San Antonio KOA, 602 Gembler Road, San Antonio, TX 78219-1013 Tel: (800) 562-7783
- Jamaica Beach RV Park, 17200 San Luis Pass, Galveston TX 77554 Tel: (409) 632-0200