The week following Labor Day weekend in September is a perfect time to get out the old recreational vehicle, gas up, load the fridge with some groceries, and head from the nation’s mid-section southwest. The younger summer crowds have gone home in anticipation of another school year leaving parks open, services available, and roads clear and for the most part hassle-free. The weather is still warm while not being blazing hot and even the mosquitoes seem a bit more respectful. It’s the perfect time to amble southwest towards Grand Canyon and take in some unique sites along the way!
Lake of the Ozarks in Missouri is a beautiful, well planned and laid out state park south of the capital, Jefferson City, on State Route 42 off US 54 just a few miles east of Osage Beach. Lying just northwest of Osage Beach is Bagnell Dam. Extensive Lake of the Ozarks stretches west spreading fingers of water into tree covered shorelines and eventually empties into Harry Truman Reservoir. Popular summer tourist destination, the area has numerous camping facilities as well as up-scale hotel destinations. The state park provides a large number of varied RV and tent pads with services varying from electric and water to flush toilets and showers. Cool, cozy night-time temperatures complete with the murmur of mountain jays and their feathered companions help to settle you in for a quiet, peaceful night.
From Lake of the Ozarks, if you time it right, you can arrive in Winfield, Kansas (known as the “Mural Capital of Kansas) for the annual National Flat-Picking Championships at the Walnut Valley Festival held at the fairgrounds located on the Walnut River. The event runs 5 days and swells the town population by approximately 13,000 music loving fans on comfortable grass and tree-covered lawns complete with activities and events woven throughout the festival. Even if you are not a bluegrass aficionado, you can’t help but be buoyed by the happy picking sounds wafting through camp. Besides the competition, events include workshops, BBQ’s, and “music crawls”.
From Winfield Kansas, Taos New Mexico isn’t that far. Clip the panhandle of Oklahoma as you follow the road west on SR 56 and catch the narrow two lane mountain road west of Interstate 25 on SR 58. Still brimming with tourists the middle of September, the southwest arts and crafts community is home to more than gourmet foods, music, and recreation (both summer and winter that includes skiing) with the Taos Pueblo, the oldest continually inhabited community of over 1,000 years, designated a National Historic Landmark. RV camping in Taos is available but can run very expensively.
In an area dotted by pueblos and national monuments, you could spend several days exploring one exotic location after another. Less than 45 miles south on SR 68 west of Espanola in Chimayo is the El Santuario de Chimayo at County Road 98 off SR 76. Bordered by the Santa Cruz River, the sacred site houses the Santuario Church as well as monuments, gardens, and gift shops in the complex where an isolated chapel became a well-known shrine in the U.S. No RV camping, but plenty of local opportunities including casinos in Espanola.
South to Albuquerque and west on Interstate 40, it’s not far to the Bluewater Lake State Park, NM, just east of the continental divide where a bloody skirmish for water between ranchers, natives, and Mormons resulted in the land and dam being owned by the natives on their reservation where tribal horses had free run of the campground in the high desert dotted by pines as well as cactus and sage. Simple campsites range from dirt and gravel with no hookups to electric and water and has a central dump.
Continue west on Interstate 40 and you’ll run into the Painted Desert and south into the Petrified Forest. The park road is 28 miles of vistas, hiking trails, picnic areas, and wilderness. There are no camping sites and no water is available and stopping to enjoy the major designated areas can appreciably take all day. The petrified wood displays can range in brilliant colors and patterns from reds to blues and purples and well worth the time.
The Homolovi Ruins State Park is rattlesnake friendly as well as RV and ranges in services from simple pads to electric and water with central dump. Since we have a small dog and the area is home to several varieties of rattlesnakes as well as coyotes and other wildlife, we were warned to keep a close eye and tight leash on her. The ruins themselves are worth the fee to the campground which includes entry to a small information center as well as the ruins situated in opposite directions and each peppered with ancient pottery shards.
If you haven’t visited Williams AZ to take the train to the Grand Canyon, you’ve missed a delightful laid-back route to the rim. Check into the Grand Canyon RV Park–full hookup services, including laundromat. There is a great restaurant located within the adjacent hotel as well as doggy day-care facilities. We were serenaded by Navajo singer, comedian, and musician Clarence Clearwater one way and boarded by train robbers the other. No worry about the road, parking, or congestion and you’ll have all day to way the trails and stop at the major viewpoints. allstate customer service