Off-season vacationing

Mike Bleech Outdoors Columnist

Warren is, and I am guessing here but it is reasonably accurate, the oldest town in the third oldest state. That old is the average age of citizens. Warren is a very old town.

A typical older town works against itself in a couple of different ways. Relatively few citizens are in the workforce. They are retired. Then older citizens tend to want more government services. Of course, the only thing the government can do to meet the things older citizens want is to raise taxes on people with fixed incomes.

My job is not to address everyday political issues. My job is to help you enjoy the outdoors. So what this means to me is that many of us can go on vacation whenever we please. One thing that pleases Jeri and I very much is visiting parks when they are not crowded. We do not like waiting in lines or finding ‘PARKING LOT FULL’ signs. We do like off-season rates, and few tour buses to jam facilities.

Just last summer, Jeri and I toured Glacier National Park and Rocky Mountain National Park. Parking lots were full, campgrounds were full all the way through both parks. There was no room for us to park at visitor centers or any other major point of interest. The Visitor Center should be the first stop on any visit to a National Park. This is where you get maps, park activities information, alerts. And souvenirs.

At a previous stop on that same trip, we could not even get near Devil’s Tower. Fortunately, there are excellent views from outside the park entrance. That happened during the midst of the traditional Memorial Day to Labor Day tourism season. The kids, the good ones who gave you grandkids, are pretty much stuck with vacationing from Memorial Day to Labor Day while school is out. Bless their hearts.

Traditional American tourist season is not the peak use season at every park. You might see snow drifts on roads at Glacier National Park in early July, and at the same time, the temperature may be unbearable at Big Bend National Park. The most popular time to visit Great Smokey Mountains National Park is during late fall when the leaves are turning colors. Of course, this park is always crowded. Jeri and I tried to beat the crowds by making an early visit. Well, most of the better areas were closed by snow, and still, there was a steady stream of traffic both into and out of the park.

Mesa Verde National Park is one of those National Parks that deliver more than advertised. And we hit it just right. Other tourists were in the park, but nowhere was it crowded. The only difficulty we encountered here was when I got caught on a trail when a sleet storm hit. I hunkered under a tree and pulled up my jacket collar. The only injury was to my jacket. It had to be dried.

Temperatures probably will be cooler than when you left home if you visit high elevations, so pack clothes for it. You should have a working understanding of the weather you likely will encounter during your vacation. Depending on how far you travel, and on which direction(s) you travel, you may have to prepare for three seasons.

The weather could also be considerably warmer than what you are accustomed to at home. This may be the case at deserts. Most tourists avoid midsummer on a desert, but if you have never experienced a desert, summer is the time to get the full effect. This is the way to understand desert habitat.

Park usage has increased hugely over the past several decades. Making reservations was not even a consideration during my first tour of national parks in 1966. Over the past two years of traveling to most national parks, by coincidence or really good luck, we got the last, or next to last room, at least 75% of the time. That changed only when we started making reservations while we stopped for lunch.

Most lunch stops consist of Jeri making sandwiches while we’re parked in a pull-off. This started out of the preparation for finding many eateries not yet open for the season. That is a real issue. Also, this saves a bunch of money on one of our 3-week vacations, and often the food is better.

There have been occasions when no restaurants were within walking distance of our hotel, and worst than that, there have been more than a few times when I could find neither hotel or eatery. In such cases, it is good to know that I carry a single burner butane stove, a frying pan, and food in my ice chests. Yes, you bet you will find the new super ice chests more than worth the extra cost.

I must add this. It has been our experience that eateries tend to be better than average in popular tourist areas. But they do us no good if they are not open for the season.


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