SI Vault
 
Boondock Heresy
Bil Gilbert
September 02, 1968
A 'forever wild' naturalist visits the Great Smokies National Park on a holiday weekend and decides reluctantly that the trailer-rig campers deserve a piece of the action
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
September 02, 1968

Boondock Heresy

A 'forever wild' naturalist visits the Great Smokies National Park on a holiday weekend and decides reluctantly that the trailer-rig campers deserve a piece of the action

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue
1 2 3 4 5 6

All other claims and marvels aside, there is one undeniable virtue of a Cortez. If you absolutely have to travel with children, doing so in a Cortez while, of course, not easy, is easier than any other form of transportation I know about. In one of these mobile suites the kids can play Monopoly all day as the miles slip past. They are never farther from soda pop than the built-in refrigerator, and the John is only a step away from the refrigerator. Also, when these wonders pall and your traveling children turn mean, as they inevitably do, you can swat them and send them to bed just like back home. Terrific.

When we got to the park we stabled 1720 in L-18, a parking stall at Elkmont, a car campground. Elkmont is the largest and most popular of 14 Great Smoky parking lots where people live by and out of their cars. These parking lots, not some bosky glade in the backcountry, are where you find the hard-line park users, the majority of the people who stay for a night or two. In the 14 car campgrounds in the Smokies there are about 1,400 parking stalls, which means, given the size of families and automobiles, there is space for about 5,000 overnighters.

Once we parked 1720 at Elkmont we immediately discovered another virtue of a Cortez; the machine is so exotic that it gives the operator an automatic entr´┐Że into the social life of a parking-lot campground. We had scarcely stopped rolling when we began to receive visitors and rubberneckers. They punched 1720's flanks, pushed her buttons, peered into her mechanical intestines and requested a complete rundown on her gas consumption and her performance on freeways, curves and hills. The Cortez, because it was rare, was an attraction, but of an exhibitive sort, like a mock-up of a family rocket ship displayed at an auto show. Also, there was an undercurrent of feeling that the Cortez was a bit too cunning for the car-camping purists. "It's lovely," a Delaware lady said to her mate in a loud whisper while peering into the kitchenette, "but everything is done for you. I wonder what these people do with themselves all day."

What she meant was that in a Cortez, in which all the gadgets for gracious automotive living are preassembled and installed, you can't play The Game, which is the principal recreation of out-of-cardoorsmen and which if you don't know anything about you don't know anything about reality in the national parks. The Game is sometimes called Looking Over that Rig from Ohio. It is a sort of combination of one-upmanship and kicking tires in a used-car lot. The object of The Game is to turn a parking stall into a facsimile of a summer cottage or a small development house. The competitive aspect is to build a better house than anybody else in the parking lot by bringing more equipment and by displaying more ingenuity. No matter what the boondock people say, a lot more people come to play this game and spend a lot more time playing it than they do seeking solitude or sniffing the wild flowers.

The Game begins as soon as a family pulls into a parking space. The first move is to set up the core unit of the dwelling. This may be a large tent that has to be propped up, a pop-up tent trailer that has to be popped up or a pickup truck camper or house trailer that has to be leveled, chocked up, opened up. Once this is done the out-of-car-doorsman is ready to begin putting up annexes, usually a cluster of small separate tents for dining, washing and lounging, plus canvas cubicles for kids, pets and grandparents. Few campers in Elkmont were tent campers; nearly everyone was a tents camper.

Once the main buildings are erected, campers begin adding the heap of little touches that make a parking lot a home. Aluminum chairs and settees are arranged in symmetrical patterns. Folding tables, sinks, brake blocks and garbage-disposal units are set up. Though most trailers and pickups have built-in units, many campers also carry refrigerators, stoves, ovens, overhead lights and china cupboards, which are put up outside. These are the basic furnishings of a parking lot, but there are many optional conveniences. Two lady schoolteachers from Indiana traveled with a flower box full of geraniums, and a family of Georgians put out a doghouse for their beagle.

Once an out-of-cardoorsman has set up his own rig and displayed his equipment and ingenuity to best advantage, he is ready to take part in the tricky offensive part of The Game: to wander about and look critically at other people's rigs and receive wanderers who want to look at his. From dawn to dusk, little groups of rig critics walked about Elkmont, putting down their neighbors in a polite sort of a way:

"I'll admit I've got a lot of money tied up in this rig, but the convenience of a trailer is worth it to me. I just come up here to enjoy the wilderness and relax. But I guess for you younger people part of the fun is roughing it, wrestling with a tent."

"We came over last time with some friends from Knox [ Knoxville] who were pulling a trailer. Took us two hours. Now I can get over here in an hour and 20 easy. You'd be surprised how one of those rigs drags. Didja ever figure what it adds to a gas bill?"

"This little gadget is a water leveler. Pull right in, adjust it and you know your taps are going to work. It's probably not worth it to a fellow who just gets out once in a while. But we are hooked on this outdoor stuff. It sure saves us time and aggravation."

Continue Story
1 2 3 4 5 6