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Rolling Along with KOA
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Rolling Along with KOA
  Tecate Travel Tale

by Lorry Patton ...

The following is our itinerary from British Columbia, Canada to KOA Tecate, in Baja California, the latest Mexican addition to the KOA family. Our plans included stopping in several KOA campgrounds on the way there and back.

The notion of KOA began in 1962, when a group of visionary business leaders realized that many people would be coming to the World's Fair in Seattle, Washington. They rightly believed that families traveling with recreational vehicles from distant states would appreciate staying in campgrounds that offered certain amenities and qualities. Today, more than 75,000 KOA sites operate in United States and Canada, including sites in Mexico and Japan. Owners manage 70 percent of the campgrounds and 80 percent are within 100 miles of a city with over 100,000 population.

Guests are assured that all KOA campgrounds will have hot showers, laundromats and a camp store. Many have additional services, like swimming pools and hot tubs. The latest amenities include Kamping Kabins, cosy log huts that allow folks without recreational vehicles to experience what camping is all about.

Our first KOA was the Sherwood Forest KOA off 1-5 just south of Eugene, Oregon. It had nice and easy pull through sites and the staff was especially friendly, even after I made myself at home in their lobby and spilled the coffee they generously provided. I hope they know how much I appreciated that they let me check my email and use their property as a delivery post for an important package I was expecting.

After a few nights in Reno we continued south. Smog plagued us as we approached the San Bernardino Valley, but it was miraculously nonexistent at KOA Devore. In fact, the weather was so appealing (warm and dry) we stayed a couple of nights. The owner treated the campground as if it were his back yard-- pruning the greenery, trimming the hedges, washing the pads . . . Unlike most parks that have to conserve water, this property has its own well.

Our next KOA was in Chula Vista just beyond San Diego, which we reached right at rush hour, unfortunately. The Metro KOA is a big commercial campground, with young energetic attendants zipping around in golf carts making sure everything runs smoothly. Because of its proximity to major attractions such as the San Diego Zoo, Sea World, Legoland and Disneyland, this campground accommodates thousands upon thousands of families each year and they do it in an organized manner. A well-stocked convenience store sells a variety of products, including souvenirs and accessories. A city bus stops right on the property and transports guests to a bus loop in town where buses lead in all directions.

Before crossing into Mexico, we went shopping for insurance. For a while, it looked like we might not get any -- most brokers could not determine a price for our coach because it is a bus conversion and not listed in the book.

Insurance is expensive, about $30 a day for a $100,000 unit. A tow car adds to the cost. Many people get full coverage just for the time their unit will be on the road and partial insurance for the time it sits still at their destination. They use taxis or their tow car to get around. I would suggest shopping around. There are many brokers by the border.

Border towns do not usually portray an accurate image of the country's personality. However, having traveled in Mexico thoroughly, I can tell you that Tecate's atmosphere is not unlike towns deep in the heart of the nation. Perhaps it is because Tecate is not a big town and the border is not close to a big US city. (San Diego is just far enough away to keep hordes of day trippers out.) The village has a square where the locals gather, an aromatic bakery that bakes mouth-watering bread and a strolling Mariachi band that moves to the taverns when the sun goes down. A brewery outside town offers daily tours that end with a sample of the world famous Tecate beer.

Tecate KOA is high in the cool mountains, about ten miles from town. Even before entering the gate, you can see the horses and donkeys grazing in the tranquil fields. Once inside you can see the sheep and goats in the holding pens and you can smell the hay. An old-fashioned windmill pulls pure water from the earth and supplies the sites with fresh clean water. Comfortable leather chairs and tables cover the verandah that surrounds the rustic white-stuccoed office. The pool is warm and inviting, the perfect place to read a good book and catch streams of golden rays. ( Of course, your body is slathered in protective lotion and your head is covered in an oversized sombrero.)

We have been expecting you," Senor Hernan Ibanez said, with a broad smile and a firm handshake. "I will let Zella know you have arrived."

Hernan Ibanez is a true cowboy. He is quite comfortable sauntering about in his leather boots and western hats, staying in charge of the entire operation. During our week's visit, he was busy overseeing the construction of the swimming pool and changing rooms, which are now fully operational.

Besides swimming and sunning, site activities include feeding the sheep and goats (raised for their wool), hiking, and guided horseback riding, or you are free to head for the hills on an exhilarating gallop by yourself, which explains why many come just to ride the horses. Soon, you'll be able to play mini golf on site, meanwhile, the staff will be happy to arrange golf at the nearby country club. Hamburgers, enchiladas and other Mexican morsels are sold in the nearby snack bar -- just don't become addicted to Mexican style fried shrimp, they are so delicious!

Hernan's wife and partner Zella used to manage her family's financial institution until she fell in love with Mexico and her husband. "He was so handsome I almost fainted" she says of their first meeting.

Community-minded Zella, can tell you about the wineries in the Guadalupe Valley, give you directions to the old mission ruins under restoration and arrange for the staff to shuttle you into town and back. Her personable character, enthusiastic attitude and high standards are a major reason for the property's friendly and classy atmosphere. I am certain that the visions and goals she and her husband have for their campground will come to pass.

For rates and more information on this facility: Write KOA, PO Box 280, Tecate, CA 91980 or call 011-52-665-44772. Or you can email Zella at ibanez@telnor.net

It was flowering season in the desert so our next stop was the Anza Borrego Desert State Park. After several days among the ocotillo and the prickly pear, we continued to Davis Camp in Bullhead City, Arizona, stopping at the newly- constructed Ehrenberg/Colorado River KOA and the Needles KOA.

Most KOA's are destinations in themselves, with activities conducive to the topography of the area. The KOA in Ehrenberg has the warm desert weather, the pebbly desert landscape and the flowing Colorado River at its property line. Campers enjoy river activities such as water skiing, jet skiing & fishing plus the property's facilities such as the swimming pool and hot tub. I believe they will fill this campground property to capacity once word gets out about its natural attributes.

The Needles KOA is also in the desert. Visitors here enjoy exploring the surroundings and stumbling upon herds of burros in Oatman. Once a booming gold mine town, today, about one hundred residents sell curios and art ( and carrots to feed the burros), in restored general stores and saloons that flank the wooden sidewalks.

We interspersed our stay at Davis Camp with a side trip to Kingman and the Kingman KOA, an established beautifully treed property, complete with a gift shop and an excellent information folder on the history of Kingman and surrounding area.

Our next stop was Las Vegas and the surprisingly warm and friendly and big and busy Las Vegas KOA. Managers Dick and Jewel Knapp run this property with flair and innovation. We weren't there very long when a voice shouted from a moving golf cart that it was chow down time at the recreation lounge. I was not expecting steak, bake potatoes, baked beans and buns. What a meal and all free! Apparently this happens at least once a month. Furthermore, the husband and wife team entertain the guests as well, with jokes, guitar playing and song. It was a fun event and truly a first for me.

We dawdled Northwest back through Reno, stopping at KOA campgrounds in Sacramento, Redding, Grants Pass, Albany and Chehalis.

The Sacramento KOA is in a perfect spot, just outside the city close to a local bus stop. We hopped on board a bus and a very funny bus driver entertained us. We laughed so hard, we were tempted to stay on the bus. However, we got off in a very good mood and happily explored Old Sacramento.

Redding KOA is a mile away from the Sacramento River, 8 miles from Lake Shasta and 16 miles from Shasta Caverns, and practically next door to a giant water slide. These natural, wild and man-made accouterments are the property's biggest attraction. Visitors rarely stay just the night. The same holds true for the Gold 'n' Rogue KOA in Gold Hills and the Corvallis/Albany KOA in Albany, both of these in Oregon. Fertile farmland surrounds one and wineries, covered bridges and a historical town surround the other.

The KOA in Chehalis, Washington was under new ownership and undergoing major construction when we were there. By now, the renovations should be over and the amenities expected at KOA Kampgrounds should all be in place.

As a professional travel-writer, I critique lodgings, however, even when I'm not working for a particular publisher, I find myself reviewing properties as a habit. If I have any complaints about the KOA campgrounds, it is that a few properties post their rules in an unfriendly manner. NO this and NO that, would be much easier to swallow with a please in front of it and maybe a little bit of humor. I liked the checkout rule at one site that read: "You need to be out, showered, have breakfast and be ready to leave by noon, unless you like us so much that you plan to stay and pay for another day."

On a couple occasions, I found the clerks behind the counter a bit cranky. I'm sure they were having a bad day, but, like actors on a stage, the show must go on, despite personal dilemmas. People who work in the service industry are expected to be pleasant and friendly even if it is just an act. As for sites that have been around a while, the beautiful mature landscaping made up for the smaller pads and awkward access roads. A few sites could use some technological updating, like installing fax lines.

Overall, KOA campgrounds offer the amenities they advertise and the properties are clean and maintained. I would not hesitate to recommend them.




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