Campground review: Yosemite Lakes Thousand Trails, Groveland, CA

Usually we use our 4G hotspot for the internet but that’s a complete no-go at this campground.  Using our Wilson Sleek cradle I could get 1 or 2 bars of unreliable 3G – really not enough to even have a decent phone conversation.  That left us dependent on the park’s WiFi.  By staying in the section of the campground closer to the Activity Center we had slow, but somewhat useable internet.    Also, to our surprise, when I went to plug in the electric we had 50 amps – something not even listed on the campground map.

We were disappointed and surprised at how far it really is to Yosemite valley.  Even though a National Park entrance is only five miles from the campground it’s actually about 30 miles down to the valley – and those miles are twisting, turning, and sometimes steep miles.  Here’s a tip: the YARTS bus stops right at the campground and will take you to Yosemite valley.  The cost for the two of us was actually about what we would have spent on fuel driving in and out.  I suggest you drive in and see the more distant sites and then ride the bus for future visits to the valley.  They offer senior adult discounts and even have a three trips for the price of two special.  Also, there’s no park admission fee for those on the bus!

No review of Yosemite Lakes Thousand Trails is complete without mention of Highway 120’s New Priest Grade.  This 7-8 miles of road is a non-stop 5-6%, switchback filled challenge that must be faced to come to the campground.   The uphill side is also the side with the dropoffs.  It will test the vehicle’s engine and the driver’s nerves.  The downhill side hugs the side of the hill and it will test the vehicle’s transmission and brakes and the driver’s skills.  There are two other nearby roads.  One is the shorter and much steeper (15%) Old Priest – no one with a RV has any business on it and law enforcement agrees – RVs are banned from driving it.  There’s another route that includes Greely Hill road.  We checked it out and I decided it was better to just stay with New Priest.  Here’s my take on it: if you are driving a RV that you know is underpowered or overweight or especially long you should think twice before tackling this section of road.  However, most people with a properly set up RV and moderate driving experience can drive it.  Hundreds of RVs, tour buses, and logging trucks do it every week.  The YARTS bus drivers told me that their top of the hill speed target is 25 mph which they gear to hold down the grade.  They also suggested that one keep an eye on oncoming traffic, making room for bigger vehicles, especially those coming downhill.  On one had, this drive should be taken seriously.  On the other hand, a lot of people do it with no problems whatsoever.  We came up the grade about 25 mph and the engine was working hard.  Our clutch fan came on early and stayed on all the way up and a ways beyond.  We came down at 20-25 mph.  I had to tap my brakes on some of the hairpins.  Really, I thought coming down was easier than coming up.

The reward is a nice campground near a beautiful National Park.

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My motorhome versus 5th wheel story

The sure-fired, guaranteed, spirited discussion topic among fulltiming RVers is, well you know what it is: which is best for fulltiming, motorhome or 5th wheel.  The obvious thing is that both are quite suitable.  After all, there are thousands upon thousands of people happily and enthusiastically traveling and living in both.

Note: after 6 years in the 5th wheel we did make the move to the motorhome. Here’s my article comparing the two.

Still, there are advantages and disadvantages to both.  Just for fun, here are my comparisons (note: I’ll update this list when I come across more “pros” either way):

Motorhome

  1. Easier to park and set up – important for people who move often or are challenged by such things. One thing that helps is that the driver is sitting right up front over the wheels – and the steering on a mothorhome lets the driver turn the rig very sharply
  2. Lends itself to the famous “in motion passenger pit stop” and it’s less famous cousin, the “honey grab me a soda from the fridge” in motion request
  3. Better for “bugging out” from a rest area or Walmart parking lot if things sound a bit strange outside
  4. If you tow a car you have a small, economical daily driver – also nice for scouting out the campground for sites upon arrival
  5. Most comfortable travel vehicle
  6. It provides the famous, “we don’t have to even go outside if it’s raining when we arrive” advantage
  7. While there are more steps to get inside, once inside it is all one level

5th Wheel

  1. More room inside – important for people who stay in one place longer
  2. The “house” and the vehicle are separate – really important when the vehicle has to go in the shop – you don’t have to get a motel room for, say, a transmission rebuild
  3. Cost of maintenance on tow vehicle is generally less – doesn’t require “big rig” service oil changes, and camper tires are less expensive
  4. Depending on your taste, startup costs are generally less
  5. Greater variety of floor plans
  6. More stable when driving in windy conditions (assuming a well matched tow vehicle and 5th wheel)
  7. Propane tanks can be removed and taken to a refill station
  8. When you want to upgrade you can upgrade the tow vehicle and 5th wheel separetly rather than having to greater expense of trading motorhomes
  9. A 5th wheel is easier to level on sites that are unlevel front to back – you don’t have to worry about putting the front tires up on blocks or having them dangling in the air if using an automatic leveling system
  10. Here’s a real biggie: a husband towing a 5th wheel is somewhat less likely to drive off without the wife aboard. 🙂

Here’s our story: when we began our search we set a budget for our fulltiming rig.  We started off looking mostly at diesel motorhomes but soon became discouraged that the nice ones were over our budget.  We began pricing bigger pickups and 5th wheels.  It became apparent to us that we had a better chance of staying under our budget while getting something we liked if we went the 5th wheel route – and we did.

A big influence on us was the living space available in the 5th wheels as well as the better floor plans.  We wanted a normal living room set up, including a more natural location of the television.  Most motorhomes we looked at didn’t offer such a floor plan.  A lot of 5th wheels didn’t either, but some did.

Now that we’re fulltiming, I admit that there have been times when I wished for a motorhome/towed vehicle.  The truck uses a lot of fuel, towing or not.  When we arrive at a campground, I really dislike driving around with the 5th wheel in tow while I cruise up and down narrow roads trying to pick out a campsite.

Most of the time, though, I’m convinced we made a good choice.  We like the living space the 5th wheel provides.  We think some of the advantages of the motorhome are minor at best.  After all, we would have to stop motorhome or 5th wheel for the driver to make a pit stop – not to mention that walking around in a motorhome in motion is somewhat dangerous and likely illegal.  We haven’t had to set up in any downpours, and if we did, we’d just get a little wet moving from the pickup to the camper where we’d wait it out.  Also, we don’t do camp Walmart or stay in rest areas so the possibility of needing to make a run for it from some undesirable situation really isn’t that great.

Then, we’ve had the pickup in the shop three times now, once overnight.  It was nice not having to take our whole house in to the shop and vacate it just for new radiator hoses!

Maybe, someday, we’ll join the motorhome crowd.  When we do, we’ll enjoy some of the advantages of living and traveling in a motorhome.  At the same time, though, I think we’ll miss some of the pluses of our 5th wheel.

Campground review: Allegany Mountain Resort at Rainbow Lake, East Otto, NY

Now, all the above doesn’t mean everything is just wonderful here.  This is an old campground and that is quite apparent.  The campsites are small, obviously planned before people traveled in the larger RVs of today.  I tried three different campsites before I managed to get into one.  In fact, I got stuck in the first one and thought for awhile that I would need a tow to get out.  Also, the roads are narrow and some are very steep.  Making one turn I nearly took out a post and then, making another turn I managed to drop the driver’s side camper wheels into a fairly deep ditch.  Damage was minor and it could have been worse.   Damage was moderate – bent an axle, found months later when a tire began to show considerable wear, around $350 for the repair.  The “overnight” campground area has no sewer sites and power is 30 amps.  The power and water hookups aren’t where you expect them to be.  I had to get out a water hose I’d never used to reach water and I had to borrow an electric extension cord from the campground to reach the electric.  Then, over the hot weekend, the voltage kept dropping below 102 volts which caused my trusty surgeguard to shut the camper’s electric down. Once the weather cooled, the electric settled down.  Word is that this section is slated for a 50 amp upgrade.  One lesson I learned from my arrival here is to never let anyone (even people with the best of intentions) talk you into trying to park in a spot that you feel isn’t suitable for your rig.  They may tell you that “people park here all the time” but when you get stuck or manage to damage your rig, it will be you who pays for the repairs.

If you have a small camper you’ll love coming to this resort.  If you have a bigger one, try to arrive on Sunday-Wednesday when there are plenty of campsites, then, in the overnight area, head for the first two roads up from the lake for the best chances of getting a site you can get in to and that will be somewhat level.  The farther up the hill you go, the harder it will be to find a spot.

Would I return?  Yes!  That is, unless I had to arrive during a busy weekend!  In that case, I’d find another place.

Meanwhile, I think a couple of issues with the F350 have been fully resolved.  The truck had an overheating problem when towing in heavy traffic in Dallas.  It had never repeated until the day we came here.  As we pulled up a long grade near this campground it overheated again.  I took the truck to a nearby Ford dealer and they found that the fan clutch wasn’t engaging.  It is supposed to spin the fan at a much higher speed when towing on a long uphill.  The repairs were covered by warranty so, while we were out $100, we didn’t have to pay the full cost which was several times that amount.  Then, as I drove, I felt a familiar shaking of the steering wheel.  While on one of our first tows we had a tire tread separate and we ended up buying two new tires.  Now one of the remaining two originals (which should have given us at least a year’s more service) had suffered the same failure.  We put the spare on and found matching tires in Buffalo.  This time, there was no warranty, so we dropped a big chunk of change on the new tires.  Hopefully, we’ve now solved the biggies and we will get a break (knock on wood) from these kinds of issues for awhile.

We’re finishing up our time here tomorrow, but the move will be just a few hours to the east.  The adventure continues.

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See individual photos with captions here.

Some days are better than others

Our trip from Lake Conroe to Lake Texoma should have taken around 5 hours. Instead it took 10. As we headed north on I45 the pickup began to shake, rattle, and roll. Rolling part was just fine but the shaking and rattling caused us a bit of concern. My hope was that a wheel was unbalanced but I kind of knew something more was going on.

When we came to Corsicana we decided to stop of the local Walmart and have them check the tires. The stop didn’t work out very well. For one thing the Walmart was clear across town. For another I went one exit too far. That shouldn’t be a big deal, after all Corsicana isn’t that big of a town. After a couple of misfires on direction we got onto the right road, the main street through town. To our dismay, the street was all torn up, under construction. We had to take a detour and what a detour it was. It took us at least 5 miles around the half mile of construction. Finally we arrived at Walmart. I had to unhook the camper so they could put the truck into the bay. After a few minutes one of the guys said, “Here’s your problem.” One of the front tires was separating. It was nothing like round anymore. After checking they told me that they didn’t have that size of tire. They were nice enough to not charge me anything. Meanwhile, I called all over town, but no luck.

Finally, I decided to take another detour, this to the Discount Tire Store in Waxahachie. It was around 20 miles out of my way, but the nearest place with my size of tires. After re-hitching the camper I headed northwest. When I arrived, they showed me where I could unhitch the camper. Forty-five minutes later and several hundred dollars poorer I re-hitched the camper for the third time of the day and we headed north.

By now we were well inside the Dallas rush hour. I took the loop around Dallas hoping to miss some of the traffic. That worked okay till we hit Highway 75. It was a parking lot. Here I was with my big camper trying to work my way through traffic. At one point the motor temperature began to climb to the point I feared I would have to pull over (but where?). Thankfully, just as the temperature would reach the danger zone we would get to move at around 40 miles per hour for a mile or so. The temp would drop and then, as we inched along, it would start inching higher. However, we survived and made it to the campground 5 hours behind schedule but happily with enough daylight left for us to find a nice campsite and get settled in before dark. The heating problem will be addressed another day.

For now, we’re glad to be at Lake Texoma Thousand Trails. Photos and a campground review to follow.