JERRY McBRIDE/Durango Herald
Even on vacation, Dick and Nina Chapman are never too far from home.
That is because their home – or second home – goes with them.
“This was always a dream of mine to retire and get an RV,” said Dick Chapman, 77, of Albuquerque, while relaxing in his $200,000 Tiffin Phaeton motorhome parked last week at the Alpen Rose RV Park in the Animas Valley north of Durango.
The luxurious home on wheels includes a full kitchen, living room, bedroom with queen-size bed, bathroom, shower, wood cabinets, ceramic tile floors, decorative lighting, two leather couches and four televisions.
It is powered by a diesel engine that gets 7 miles to the gallon, Dick Chapman said.
“It’s very smooth,” he said. “It drives easily.”
RVers and drivers who pull trailers have a significant impact on the local economy, representing about a fourth of all tourists who pass through the Durango Area Tourism Office, said Jack Llewellyn, executive director of the Durango Chamber of Commerce.
Some roll into town in large groups and stay for several days, if not weeks, he said. They often arrive without a strict schedule, so the tourism office works to inform them about the local attractions to keep them here for as long as possible, Llewellyn said.
“Definitely, I think they have a big impact to our economy,” he said.
Craig and Kay Ritchie of New River, Ariz., arrived last week and planned to stay a few days before going to Telluride and Dolores. Instead, they decided to stay extra days in Durango and possibly forgo the other towns.
“We found there’s a lot more to do here and places we want to go see,” Craig Ritchie said while eating cheese and crackers under the awning of their 2007 Winnebago Voyage last week at the Alpen Rose RV Park.
They planned to eat at the Ore House, visit Silverton, possibly ride the train and go four-wheeling.
The Ritchies said they prefer staying in an RV rather than a motel because it allows them to be closer to nature.
“I, myself, prefer to be outside and a little on my own compared to a hotel,” Craig Ritchie said. “At a hotel, I couldn’t sit here with a can of beer and cheese and crackers.”
Most self-supported motorists stay at RV parks that charge between $10 and $50 per night, depending on location and accommodations. But some crisscross the country, parking overnight at Walmart centers.
Lynn Mader, who serves as a campground host at Alpen Rose, said she and her husband stayed at 28 Walmarts during their first year of RVing, between September and December 2005, from Wisconsin to Arizona.
“We decided we really don’t enjoy that because it’s not the best situation,” Mader said. “You have a lot of traffic, a lot of bright lights, it’s hard to sleep – a lot of activity.”
Some find places to park without water, sewer or electrical hookups – called boondocking.
That is what a group of 27 RVers were doing last week at the La Plata County Fairgrounds, which charged the group $1,500 to park for one week.
The group, called the Wandering Individuals Network, is made up of singles who drive their own RVs on multimonth outings, staying about a week in each location before driving a short distance to the next destination.
After Durango, they headed to Mesa Verde and Dolores, said Arlene Kosberg of Washington.
“We kayak, we bike – people have skydived,” she said. “We just took the Durango-to-Silverton train trip.”
She spends about $200 a day, which includes gas, meals and gifts.
“I tell you what, we spend a lot of money, a lot of money, in the towns we visit,” she said.
The RV industry took a hit during the Great Recession, but it since has rebounded and now is stronger than ever, according to the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association, a nonprofit trade group.
The number of households that own RVs has grown to an all-time high of 8.9 million, or about 8.5 percent of all U.S. households, said Kevin Broom, spokesman for the association. Shipments from manufacturers to retailers are expected to be up 8 percent this year, he said.
The machines come in all shapes and sizes, everything from a truck camper to a bus-sized motorhome. The average cost for a new RV is $37,000.
A few more facts about RVers:
The average owner is 48 years old, and about 35 percent have children younger than 18, Broom said.
They spend an average of three to four weeks per year in their vehicles, which includes short weekend trips and extended vacations, he said.
More than half travel with pets, mostly dogs.
The motorhome community is driven by a desire to be outdoors and spend time with family, Broom said.
“They want to go hiking, fishing, swimming – all those kinds of things – and then have a comfortable place to sleep,” Broom said. “It’s also cost-effective. It costs less than other forms of travel.”
Not everyone is on a short vacation going from one location to the next.
Coralee Leon and her husband, of Flager Beach, Fla., escape the heat each summer by spending a couple of months in Maine or Pagosa Springs. They make several overnight stops en route to their final destination, but otherwise, they leave the RV parked in one spot for the entire trip. They tow a Jeep for daily commuting.
They were parked late last month at Wolf Creek Run, a 27-space RV park in Pagosa Springs that caters to Class A motorhomes, which can cost between $300,000 and $2.5 million new, said owner Ted Cureton.
“It’s a lifestyle, it really is,” he said. “It’s all about traveling and seeing.”
Most parks offer water, sewer and electrical hookups. Some have other amenities such as a swimming pool, weight room and fire pit. Many plan activities for their guests, including breakfast, a cocktail hour and marshmallow roasts.
Wolf Creek Run has a hot tub, billiards, industrial kitchen, water features and a large patio overlooking the San Juan River.
Driving behind a moving home, especially on a single-lane mountain pass, can be frustrating.
RVers said they are acutely aware of this fact.
“People don’t seem to understand you’re in a big rig, and they’ll pull out right in front of you, and they don’t understand you can’t stop on a dime,” Craig Ritchie said.
The unspoken rule among RVers is to pull over in a safe location once three or more cars pile up behind them, Broom said. It takes a little extra time, but then again, RVers are rarely in a hurry, he said.
“That’s kind of one of the appeals of RVs,” he said. “You’re not in a hurry. You can take your time going where you’re going.”
JERRY McBRIDE/ Durango Herald