Sanford Park Campground, and a little camper history

There’s a running joke amongst my friends. I buy campers, sit on them for a bit, then sell them again without even using them once. The last three were like that. I don’t think the Ram van was my fault, though. The first time I loaded it up to go camping, it wouldn’t start. At least I made an attempt.

First there was the pop-tent camper. I was driving a Honda Element at the time, so I needed something super light. The pop-tent fit the bill. One of the aluminum rails was slightly bent, and required a fair amount of force to extend one of the slide outs. Ended up selling it for a little more than I paid.

After the pop-tent was the 1966 Aristocrat Travelier. A friend of a friend just wanted it off his property, so it cost me $50 in gas money to get it hauled from Seattle to Portland. I sold it for $400, never having taken it camping.

Not long after selling the Travelier, I bought my dad’s 1987 Dodge B350 camper van conversion. It was a tank. I drove it from Montana to Portland, parked it, and the first time I tried to go camping, it wouldn’t start. I broke even selling that one. The kid that bought it had some mechanical knowledge, and wanted to strap his motorcycle to the back and travel the country while working remotely. Millenials, amirite? I wish I had kept in touch with him–would love to see pictures of the van around the US.

Finally, last February, I decided to just bite the bullet and buy something new. The RV dealership near my house had a 17′ trailer on sale, so I went to take a look at it. It was part of their 2018 rental fleet, so it wasn’t exactly new, but I figured they probably inspected the thing every time it was rented, so I felt good about buying it. And the price was too good to pass up.

So for the rest of the winter, and into the spring, my friends were placing bets on whether or not this one would actually see a campground.

It did.

My buddy and I decided to head up to Tiber Dam to camp the weekend before Memorial Day. The forecast called for rain, but I lived in Portland for 20 years–you don’t call things off because of rain.

The drive up was windy but dry. I averaged 8mpg and burned half a tank of gas getting there, but it was an easy drive. It’s been decades since I pulled a trailer, so it took a few miles to get used to it again.

My buddy had driven up the day before with his camper, but had to run into town to meet up with his family, so I let his dog out of his camper and started setting mine up. The nice thing about a simple camper is that there isn’t much to set up. Jacks down, awning up, that’s the way we like to… Nevermind.

Once I was all set up, I rewarded myself with a beer.

Sidenote: Deschutes Twilight Summer Ale is my all-time favorite summer beer.

The dogs and I hung out for the rest of the evening, enjoying the peace and quiet that being in an empty campground offers. Why was it empty? We’ll get to that later.

Friday morning, I woke up to the pitter patter of raindrops on the roof of the camper. As forecast, we were getting a little rain. No big deal. The wind had picked up a bit, so I pulled the awning in and made my coffee and breakfast inside.

After a bit, I discovered one of the down sides to a small, simple camper: dogs with gas are lethal. So we decided that we needed to get out of the camper and explore a bit. I loaded them into the truck, and headed out.

This particular campground is in a little valley below the Tiber dam. To get out, one must travel a stretch of dirt road leading up a hill. It’s not a particularly steep hill, and when dry, it appears to be a pretty well-maintained road (the Bureau of Reclamation has offices next to the campground, so I’m sure they take care of it.) What I had forgotten, and in my opinion, the reason the campground was empty, is the type of dirt that graces this part of the state. Sans rain, it’s just nice dirt. But once it gets wet, it turns into a sloppy, slippery mess. I slid my way up the hill and stopped at a parking area on top to make a phone call (there’s no cell reception in the campground.)

When I was ready to leave the parking area, I was greeted by this image on my backup camera.

We decided to drive into Chester to fill up with gas, and discovered that all of the dirt roads were similar to the one leading out of the camp ground. The tires flung chunks onto the hood, the windshield, and the roof. I had a few concerns about actually dragging the campers up and out on those roads, but my buddy said I was being a wuss.

Friday night, my buddy and his family arrived back in the campground, and the quiet solitude was replaced by the happy squeals of kids. We spent most of the time in the campers, as the rain was really coming down at that point.

Saturday morning, we woke up to a little snow.

And a watchful hawk across the river…

We did a little more exploring on Saturday. It was cold, so we opted not to do any hiking. I didn’t care either way–I was just happy to be out of town and actually using my camper. We drove into Chester again so my buddy could fill his truck with gas, and so we could pick up some beer and brats for dinner. The roads were still sloppy.

As is often the case, the weather improved on the last day. We woke up to sun and birds and perfect camping temperatures.

After packing up, we headed up the hill.

I don’t know if it was the sun or the wind or what, but the hill didn’t seem as slippery as it was the days before. We made it up and out without much trouble. It was a long drive down the muddy roads to reach the highway, but nobody was in a hurry.

The road construction on Highway 2 ended up being worse than the muddy roads leading out of the campground. Just one huge series of potholes.

I learned how to dump my tanks in Cut Bank, said goodbye to friends, then headed south to Great Falls. The mud dried into concrete, and required a good hour of pressure washing to remove, but it was worth it.

I know it’s only one camping trip, but it’s one more than I’ve taken in any other camper I’ve owned. Plus, it was the first camping trip of the year, so double points. Ideally, this camper will let me comfortably explore more of the state, and drum up more content for this site. My plan was to take it somewhere every weekend, but life gets in the way sometimes. We’ll see how it goes.


Since the Tiber area is so huge, of course it gets its own project page.


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