Three or four decades ago, when life was simpler and people fewer, a book like the Campground and Trailer Park Guide ( Rand McNally, $4.95) would have been as useful as the Guide Michelin on an Arctic expedition. In those days you shook the mildew off the tent and strapped it to the top of the Willys Knight, tied on an extra spare, loaded the baskets and took off. The spaces were still, as they say, wide open.
Alas, the Campground and Trailer Park Guide is a book whose time has come. Somewhere along the way we seem to have blinked, and the road map changed like a piece of op art; suddenly we see the dots instead of the spaces in between. Now we camp where they tell us to camp. How complicated this can make things will never be more apparent than when you're out on the road with the car or trailer loaded down with gear, children and spoiling hamburger, the sun setting and your wife telling you in her most insistent fashion that she's going to leap from the car right here in the middle of the badlands if you don't find a campsite soon.
That's where the Rand McNally guide becomes such a bargain. It tells you where to camp, how to get there, about altitude, facilities and activities, how good the campgrounds are and where to write for reservations. It sounds mind-boggling, but they've managed to make it very readable and have included up-to-date maps for all areas. Happily, the number of our camp and trailer options have increased again this year—over 17,000 sites in the U.S. and Canada. This seems like overkill—my own road record is 10 campgrounds in 14 days—until you realize how many millions of us will be out there this summer.
Even if you aren't a camper, you'll find the guide a great little wish book. For example, in Georgia there's a spot called Magnolia Springs State Park, just north of Millen on Highway 25. It sounds like a nice place—1,000 feet above sea level, 948 acres, 50 camp spaces, 25 trailer sites, a daily fee of $2.50 and a 14-day time limit, with water and electric hookups, tables, flush toilets, showers, automatic laundry, snack bar, hiking, swimming, fishing, a boat dock, launching facilities and boat rental.
What the guide can't tell you is what Magnolia Springs must really be like: soft summer Georgia evenings, a camp chair in front of the trailer, children laughing somewhere, live-oak trees, mistletoe and Spanish moss, sunset and deepening evening stillness broken by the splash of largemouth bass in the lake.
Maybe things haven't changed so much after all.