Housing crisis buffets RVing public

The ongoing and deepening U.S. housing crisis continues to ripple through the RV and camping industry, as more people are squeezed out of conventional housing and traditional notions of what it means to have “conventional housing” get upended.

With housing prices at historic highs, asking rents are likewise soaring–23% higher in the second quarter compared to the same period in 2019, according to an Axios report last week, a gain of more than 8% a year. That’s a nationwide average, by the way, including small towns and rural areas; major metropolitan areas are a different story altogether. The average monthly rent in Manhattan, for example, just crossed the $5,000 level for the first time, but asking rents (the rent for new leases, not lease renewals) in lesser cities are growing by double-digit percentages. The year-on-year increase in December, for example, was 23% in Austin, 26% in Phoenix and 29% in West Palm Beach, Florida.

But rental properties aren’t getting more expensive simply because real estate overall is getting pricier: in many places the supply is shrinking as well, especially in the kinds of places that attract tourists and people with money and a hankering for a second home. Investment-property owners who once might have signed year-long leases now find it’s more lucrative to cater to the vacation crowd, converting to Airbnb listings. Owners of second homes, on the other hand, either leave the properties vacant for much of the year or also resort to short-term rentals, resulting in Airbnb listings outside of major metro areas soaring nearly 50% between the second quarters of 2019 and 2022. Either way, the inventory of conventional, affordable rental housing has been diminishing at a steady clip.

What’s a person to do? The default, for those who suddenly can’t afford to rent a house or an apartment, is to move into an RV, a van or even a tent. Some end up in campgrounds, some on public lands, some on city streets. That migration creates a host of social problems, from health and safety issues having to do with inadequate sanitation and increased fire hazards, to societal instability and environmental degradation. But it also amounts to an invasion of a public sphere that most people still regard as essentially recreational rather than residential. Increasingly, RVers report they can’t find a camping site, or the sites that they can find have been trashed or are in close proximity to “campers” who make them uncomfortable.

Some communities are attempting to deal with the problem at its root by limiting short-term rentals. Stinson Beach, a California ocean-side community just north of San Francisco, recently banned new Airbnbs, following the example of San Diego–which has approved a cap that is expected to cut vacation rentals in half–and San Bernardino County, which has temporarily stopped issuing permits for new Airbnbs and other vacation rentals. In Colorado, meanwhile, the Steamboat Springs city council has not only banned new short-term rentals but is seeking to impose a 9% tax on existing rentals with which to fund affordable housing.

Such efforts, however, inevitably generate opposition from property owners and civil libertarians, like the lawsuit filed against Lincoln County, Oregon, after voters last fall readily approved a ban on new short-term rentals. Earlier this month the Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals overturned the measure, ruling the decision goes against state laws, but ban supporters have vowed to continue the fight to “reclaim” their neighborhoods. Similar confrontations are bubbling up elsewhere.

As RVs increasingly become homes of last resort, legislative attempts to recognize and regulate this expanding use frequently run into opposition from trade groups eager to maintain the legal distinction between vehicles and homes. The RV Industry Association, for example, reported last week on its success earlier this year in modifying proposed legislation in New Hampshire that sought to define a “tiny house.” As initially written, the measure would have required a “tiny house on wheels” to “have a seal from a third-party inspection company authorized to provide such certification for tiny homes or recreational vehicles,” which RVIA contended would have resulted in RV standards being “confused with building codes meant for structures used as housing intended for year-round occupancy.”

Thanks to the trade group’s intervention, the reference to RVs was removed–although that did nothing to change the fact that RVs and park models are being used for year-round occupancy. The bill itself, meanwhile, died in committee.

Similarly, a bill in Colorado that RVIA dogged earlier this year would have established a definition of “RV residence,” a mash-up that made the trade group bristle. In addition to applying to any type of RV or park model used as “permanent or semi-permanent living quarters,” the legislation would have created regulations for properly registering an “RV residence” and hooking up an “RV residence” to utilities. The bill overall was meant to regulate tiny homes and was signed into law in May–but only after the “RV residence” references were all stripped out.

While it is indeed incorrect to refer to tiny homes and RVs in the same breath, as the two are built to entirely different standards and codes, the practical effect of actions like those just mentioned is to leave full-time RV residency in a legal and regulatory limbo. While RVIA and others insist that RVs are not intended for year-round occupancy, the reality is that’s how they’re being used, and increasingly so, for the reasons outlined above. Moreover, that’s also how they’re increasingly viewed by the public–which is why they were so readily lumped in with tiny homes by two widely separate state legislatures.

By maintaining the fiction that RVs are just hard-sided tents on wheels, we’re simply tolerating the development of a new generation of slum dwellings.

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‘Resortainment’ infects camping, too

To the extent that the RV park industry increasingly draws inspiration from its hotel-and-resort big brothers and sisters–which is to say, a great deal–looking at the latter can give campers and RVers a sense of what lies ahead for them. Judging by recent developments, alas, that means more glitz, higher prices and less of anything that resembles “nature.”

One signpost to the future is provided by an article this past week in The Wall Street Journal, headlined “Hotel Owners Embrace ‘Resortainment’ to Boost Business,” detailing the latest efforts to “persuade guests to stay longer and spend more.” That means, among other things, hotels adding the kinds of distractions that some campgrounds already have installed–ziplines, waterslides, minigolf, playgrounds–and some that may be next in the campground pipeline, from 4D-theaters with moving seats to virtual-reality games. More amenities mean higher rates, of course, but as explained by Bjorn Hanson, an adjunct NYU professor, “What was learned during Covid was that most of these leisure travelers are not as price-sensitive as assumed.”

All this comes in the wake of private campgrounds transforming themselves from having an emphasis on reconnecting with nature to having an emphasis on being a family “activity,” an evolution decades in the making. While inoffensive and even commendable in its purpose (who’s going to argue that families spending time together is a bad thing?), the shift opened the door to marketing and packaging of “experiences” that reached its apotheosis with the Jellystone campgrounds, which explicitly sell themselves as kid-centric amusement parks. Camping at a Jellystone is incidental to photo ops with Yogi Bear and buying Yogi-themed souvenirs, and building a campground is a helluva lot cheaper than building a Wolf Lodge, its closest hotel analogue.

Nor is Jellystone an outlier. The hotel-and-resort-ification of the campground industry can be traced directly to the influence of its most recognizable name, KOA, which fell under the sway of a former hotel and casino operator when Jim Rogers became its chief executive in 2000. As Rogers later told Forbes magazine, “the casino industry is so cutting edge and the camping industry is so ‘back of the woods’ ” that his work was cut out for him, starting with a big push to add full-service cabins to every campground in the system. More hotel practices quickly followed, few having anything to do with camping other than to make it less, well, natural.

In the years since, KOA, Jellystone and ARVC, the industry’s trade group, have all heavily promoted hotel and resort industry practices, from computerized reservation systems to dynamic site pricing to the latest holy grail, “yield management.” By unbundling various products and services and pricing them separately, then “dynamically” adjusting each price in response to supply and demand, a business can squeeze out every last possible bit of revenue. Old timers may scorn that as “nickel-and-diming,” but as the Wall Street Journal reported, leisure travelers just aren’t all that price conscious.

In that respect, there’s yet another Wall Street Journal article–published today–that speaks directly to what’s happening. The headline pretty much sums it up, reporting on a company that the campground industry’s movers and shakers consistently cite as the paragon of hospitality: “Disney’s New Pricing Magic: More Profit From Fewer Park Visitors.” As the subhead further explains, Disney theme park attendance remains below pre-pandemic levels, but not to worry: the Magic Kingdom simply raised some prices and eliminated or started charging for services and features that used to be “free,” i.e. part of the overall package. And guess what? Record revenues and record operating income followed.

That kind of magic is sure to bedazzle the swarm of deep-pocketed investors circling the industry, and as they sweep up more and more of its larger campgrounds and RV parks, expect similar pricing dynamics. The time is rapidly coming when most middle-class families will figure out they’ll be better off, and less impoverished, by forsaking the razzle-dazzle and heading for the woods–where they can actually carve out some undistracted quality time together.

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“Ghost Town” living up to its name

The Maggie Valley, N.C. melodrama known as “Ghost Town in the Sky” continues to live up to its name, albeit with an ever more bitter story line. The latest developments include the death of its foremost champion, a subsequent land grab by the project’s Svengali, and now a lawsuit seeking to unwind the whole mess.

But first, a little context.

Ghost Town in the Sky, as I’ve written about here and here, is a now-defunct amusement park perched on a tall hill overlooking picturesque Maggie Valley, just outside Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Once a booming tourist attraction, it closed two decades ago, done in by too much deferred maintenance and insufficient room to expand enough to compete with bigger, flashier tourist magnets on the other side of the mountains.

For all that time, however, founder Alaska Presley never lost sight of her original vision. Having sold it years earlier so she could retire, Presley repurchased Ghost Town at auction in 2012 for $2.5 million–51 years after it started operating, and 10 years after its subsequent owners had closed it down. But Presley, then 88, was determined that her mothballed and undercapitalized creation would be revived. Someday. Somehow.

Several revival setbacks later, Myrtle Beach-based developer Frankie Wood swept into Maggie Valley–and, apparently, swept Alaska Presley off her feet. In fairly rapid order, the unlikely pair formed two corporations, Ghost Town in the Sky, LLC, and Maggie Valley RV Park LLC; tellingly, the only cash or real estate contributions to both partnerships came from Presley, including Ghost Town’s 250 acres and its buildings, as well as more than $100,000 for initial improvements. Presley also contributed another $275,000 for the purchase of land and engineering studies for an RV park. Wood’s ante? A claim that he owned $3 million in property he could sell to raise cash, as well as the claim that he had access to an additional $34 million in grant funds, to provide “for development of the real property.”

Actual cash on the barrel? Not so much.

But Presley was not the only Maggie Valley resident seduced by Wood’s promises. Despite his truly checkered history of broken contracts, foreclosures, bad debts and lawsuits, amply chronicled by The Mountaineer, Wood enthralled much of the area’s business community with tales of how much development a revived Ghost Town would require–new RV parks, stores, restaurants, a health clinic, even an RV manufacturing plant–and how all that wealth would flow through the town. He conjured up visions of Disney imagineering teams designing next-generation amusement park attractions, and of how the problem of inadequate mountain-top land would be solved by carving huge terraces into the mountainside, creating a ziggurat of tourist delights.

Then Presley died, this past April. And four months later her niece, Jill Holland McClure, has filed a lawsuit seeking to dissolve both partnerships. To date, McClure claims, Wood hasn’t spent anything for property development, there has been no accounting for the money provided by Presley, the grants never materialized–indeed, not a shovelful of dirt has been turned. As for the RV park, the plans Wood submitted to the town inexplicably call for a permanent housing development instead–although that, too, remains more of an idea than an actual thing.

Meanwhile, the lawsuit also contends that ongoing expenses for companies that “remain insolvent and illiquid,” including taxes, utilities and insurance, were paid exclusively by Presley before her death and now have fallen on McClure. According to the operating agreements both Presley and Wood signed, the corporations can be dissolved by mutual consent, by sale of the company from one partner to the other, or by judicial decree. And McClure, to whom all of Presley’s “interests, rights and duties” conveyed when she died, apparently hasn’t been as beguiled as her aunt by Wood’s fantastical ways. She wants out.

Wood, of course, recognizing the potential landgrab that has fallen into his lap, is having none of it. “Alaska Presley was my partner, not her,” he has insisted, disregarding the language that advances McClure’s interests. Or as his lawyer summed up, when interviewed by the Smoky Mountain News, “If a guy sits on a horse, he owns the horse”–which may be as fitting an epitaph for a western-themed mirage as any North Carolinian might dream up.

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A dystopian future, if you care to look

Part of the encampment of unhoused people under a freeway and railroad overpass in Oakland, Cal. that has been the scene of numerous fires, most recently Aug. 16. Copyright, David Bacon.

“The Highwaymen,” a 2019 movie starring Kevin Costner and Woody Harrelson as the lawmen who tracked down and ultimately killed Bonny and Clyde, is worth seeing (you can find it on Netflix), not just because it offers a less romanticized view of the outlaws than was served up by Arthur Penn’s 1967 film, but for the gritty glimpses it shows of life during the Great Depression. Among them: an almost casual drive-by of travel trailers jammed side by side in roadside woods, clearly not a vacation spot but an encampment of otherwise homeless people struggling to provide themselves with basic shelter.

Ninety years later, some things haven’t changed, as seen in the photo above. While the U.S. is not in a depression, and arguably not even in recession, its wealth gap is bigger than it’s ever been and the people at the bottom are being priced out of existence in the second-most expensive real estate market in the country. As the San Francisco Chronicle reported today, that city’s officials estimate as many as 20,000 residents “will experience homelessness” (the politically correct phrasing these days) at some point in 2022.

Some will be homeless for just a short while, even as others live on the streets for months and years at a time, but at any one moment the city can expect to be “home” to approximately 8,000 people without a home or apartment to sleep in that night. Small wonder, then, that the area also features scenes that would look remarkably familiar to Bonnie and Clyde’s contemporaries. These aren’t the homes merely of drug addicts–that’s a child’s toy in the foreground. Families live here.

In this case, “here” is an area known as the Wood Street encampment, located across from San Francisco under the Oakland approach to the Bay Bridge. More than 200 people have been camping there at any one time for the past seven years, living in an assortment of RVs, tents, plywood shacks and huts made from a mixture of straw, clay and sand called “cob.” Their hardscrabble existence is made even more precarious by the need to build fires for cooking and heat–fires that spiraled out of control more than a hundred times in 2021 and 48 times to date this year, including one just a couple of days ago.

Still, they persist, not just for lack of alternatives but because shared hardship creates a bond. “These are communities,” an encampment resident told a local reporter last month. “People stay at these places because they feel safe there.” 

Only thinly chronicled to date, such communities may start getting wider exposure through the efforts of non-traditional journalists like David Bacon, who has spent a lifetime photographing and writing about marginalized people, notably migrant workers and indigenous peoples of Central America. But from time to time he has focused elsewhere, and now he’s taken what I suspect will be the first of several extended forays into the Wood Street encampment.

More than a score of Bacon’s trademark black-and-white photos of the encampment can be seen in a photoessay on his blog, which also is an excellent introduction to an immense body of work by a passionate, principled observer of the human condition. I urge you to take a look. One can also hope–I hope–that his example will inspire others to follow suit, in the best tradition of advocacy journalism, so that the countless other Wood Street encampments around the country can be spotlighted for the rest of us to see.

Part of the reason Bonnie and Clyde were so hard to corner was because of the help they got from a public that viewed them as Robin Hood-type figures; the money they stole, after all, was held by banks–depositories for the rich–not from people just scraping to get by. These days we have a different criminal class, one that’s more politically driven, but its depredations are similarly abetted by those who have little to nothing of their own and few prospects of that changing. It’s time the rest of us started paying attention.

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Out of the frying pan, into the fire

Maximum monthly temperature hazard in 2023, ranging to 119 degrees in the Southwest. From First Street Foundation’s 6th National Risk Assessment: Hazardous Heat

It’s been a helluva week for climate outlook–and it’s not even half over.

Mere days after Las Vegas suffered its second significant monsoon downpour within two weeks–flooding casinos and resulting in two deaths–the New York Times featured a major front-page story headlined, “The Megastorm that Could Inundate California.” Based on research at the University of California and the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado, the story detailed the growing likelihood that California will be slammed by a 1,200-mile-long “torpedo of moisture” that will inundate the state with as much as 16 inches of rain–and some areas with much more.

That was on Sunday. Monday, the First Street Foundation released its sixth national risk assessment, this one devoted to hazardous heat. The foundation, which says its mission is to model climate change to benefit property owners, previously analyzed flood and wildfire risks across the country. The freely available heat analysis, however, may be the most troubling. While the 121-page report, which includes two-page summaries for each individual state, is too lengthy to summarize here, suffice to say that the overall findings are visually summarized by the above map: it’s hot. It’s going to get a lot hotter. And the heat is going to last longer.

Bottom line? “Extreme Danger Days,” with temperatures over 125 degrees, will affect approximately 50 counties with 8 million people next year–and 1,023 counties with 107 million residents by 2053. Those extreme temperatures, however, will not be where you might expect: they’ll be concentrated across the middle of the country, in an area stretching from the Louisiana and Texas border north through Iowa, Indiana, and Illinois, affecting such cities as St. Louis, Kansas City, Tulsa, Memphis and Chicago. Meanwhile, the total number of “local hot days,” defined as the lowest temperature of the hottest seven days of this year for any given area, will grow to about 30 days at the same temperature in 2053 for large swaths of the South, with Florida hit hardest.

Such extreme heat has numerous implications, starting with the greater instability it creates in the weather, most notably in Midwest and prairie states already ravaged by tornadoes. Agriculture will take a hit. So will electric utilities, and nowhere more than in Texas, whose power grid is notoriously fragile even as it remains largely isolated from the larger national electric network. And, of course, there’s the whole thing about loss of health and longevity when human bodies are attacked by a brutal environment.

But the kicker is that the states with the highest odds of getting hammered by drought, flood, cataclysmic storms and extreme heat are also the states–other than California–with the highest influx of new residents. Florida, Texas, Arizona, Nevada–all have become magnets for people relocating from other parts of the country, ostensibly in search of lower taxes, more salubrious weather and less pesky government intrusion into their lives. It’s as though none of those tens of thousands of annual arrivals ever read or watched the news, or wondered where they would get their drinking water when the reservoirs are finally dry, or thought about the consequences of underfunded public services and emergency resources.

San Antonio, Phoenix and Fort Worth had the biggest population gains between 2020 and 2021, according to the U.S. Census Dept. Meanwhile, eight of the 15 fastest-growing large cities or towns by percent change were in the West — with five in Arizona — and seven in the South. More lemming-like behavior is hard to imagine.

What all this implies for RVers and campers in the years ahead is not hard to imagine. For all of the increased use of RVs as primary dwellings, most RVers and campers are indulging a discretionary behavior that isn’t essential to their well-being, which is to say, they simply won’t go vacationing in a hellscape. And those who do inadvertently end up in a scene out of Hieronymus Bosch will in most cases simply move on. Campground owners, on the other hand, will have no attractive options at all–something anyone still thinking of buying an RV park should keep very much in mind.

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‘Apres moi, le deluge,’ RV style

Although wildland fires typically get more press, the recent spate of epic floods has shouldered them aside in grabbing the top headlines. Yellowstone National Park got clobbered several weeks ago, followed more recently by record-topping rains that swept through . . . Death Valley, of all places, trapping approximately a thousand visitors and staff and so thoroughly devastating roads and other infrastructure that the national park is unlikely to reopen this year.

Farther east, three separate downpours over eight days, in Missouri, Kentucky and Illinois, destroyed swaths of entire communities and killed at least 39. As with the floods that devastated parts of Wyoming, Montana and California, decades-old rainfall records were broken and repeated references were made to “thousand-year floods,” meaning that the accepted odds of that much rain falling at one time were less than 1 in 1,000. Clearly, the odds-makers are overdue for an overhaul of their playbooks.

Such an unfortunate abundance of precipitation in some areas–even as drought intensifies in others–should no longer surprise anyone. Global warming produces a hotter atmosphere that can hold more moisture, resulting in heavier rainstorms. The surprise is that people with too much money and not enough horse-sense persist in thinking that weather extremes are for other people and won’t affect them. Or if they do concede that perhaps they should be paying closer attention, they nonetheless grossly underestimate the speed, size and scale of the forces arrayed against them.

A few weeks ago I wrote about a misbegotten plan to build a 57-site glamping campground in the floodway of the scenic Gallatin River in southwest Montana–the same area that was hit by the storm system that eviscerated Yellowstone National Park. The developer contends that he’ll be prepared for the inevitable flooding because the most vulnerable sites will be occupied by “Conestoga wagons” that can be towed out of the way when the river runs high.  The 19 wagon train emigrants who drowned in 1849 while crossing the River Platte, near Fort Laramie–among many others who suffered a similar fate–must not have had the right kind of wagon.

But now there’s a proposal in Nebraska that blows away the Gallatin River project for heedlessness. As tentatively approved this past week by the Valley City Council, just west of Omaha, up to 240 RV sites will be created along a three-quarter-mile stretch of the “wet side” of the Platte River–the bank more prone to flooding. Promotional literature for the proposed Platte River Resort, touting it as the state’s “premier RV resort,” evokes snorts of derision from local residents, who point out that the “resort” won’t have a sewage dump station, bathrooms or showers–never mind more resort-like amenities, like a swimming pool or snack bar–because permanent construction is not permitted in the state’s floodways.

Further overshadowing the project is the fact that there’s only one road in and out of the area. Immediately north of the site is a small residential community known as Sokol Camp, with 19 full-time residents whose homes barely escaped severe damage in a 2019 flood. If–when–another severe flood forces everyone to evacuate, they ask, what will happen when a couple of hundred RVs simultaneously clog the only escape route? “It’s in a floodway–it has a chance of flooding every single year,” pointed out John Winkler, general manager of a Nebraska agency tasked with reducing flood risks.

The city council split 3-2 on its preliminary approval, overruling its own planning commission and giving a green light for the developer to work on meeting 11 conditions required for a conditional use permit. Opponents have hired lawyers for possible legal action, and a recall effort against the three council members who voted aye is being discussed on the community’s Facebook page. And the developer appears to be digging in, justifying his plans with the claim that an RV park is the “highest and best use” of the property.

That’s the kind of transactional mule-headedness that often heralds tragedy. Sometimes the “best” use is use-less, which is to say, no use at all

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Glampers riot over boxed wine

Sheriff’s deputies and Maine state police responded in force Friday afternoon to the MIA glampground in Bar Harbor, where approximately three dozen deep-pocketed campers went on a destructive rampage after realizing that their afternoon soirees had been serving boxed wines. Tents were toppled, bed linens were strewn around the grounds and the heated swimming pool was tinged a dark red, with empty wine boxes bobbing on the water.

Glampground employees, who had barricaded themselves in the exercise room until law enforcement authorities responded to their frantic cell phone calls, said everything had been normal at the 20-acre facility until the afternoon wine and cheese party. At that point, said glampground manager Horace Quimbly, “one of the guests screamed that she couldn’t endure it any longer–that there was a limit to how much she could take. That seemed to trigger something in the other guests, and the next thing you know they turned into a raving mob.”

A state police representative confirmed the manager’s account, noting that the glampers had become so unruly that caviar had been smeared on guests’ cars in the parking lot. “What kind of animals would damage their own property?” he asked, shaking his head ruefully while pointing at the streaked windshield of a Jaguar F-Type sports car, “this place sucks” scrawled in the dripping roe.

Police ended up handcuffing three of the most belligerent glampers and writing arrest warrants for a dozen more for disturbing the peace and malicious destruction of private property, and by early evening a troubled peace had descended on the premises. But clumps of glampers in animated conversation could be seen around the grounds, furtively glancing over their shoulders as they exchanged complaints about the facility.

“The port and blue stilton were of acceptable quality,” fumed Olivia Sharpton, 46, of Mamaroneck, N.Y., describing the day’s events to a reporter. “But we had been wondering about the pinot noir that they were pairing up with a very nice gruyere –the cheese quite overwhelmed the wine, which was extremely distressing. Quel dommage! But then we discovered, quite by accident, that we’d been served an Oregon boxed varietal that they had decanted into Chateau Latour bottles. What were they thinking? That we wouldn’t know the difference? That’s outrageous!”

“That was absolutely the last straw,” chimed in her husband, Oliver Sharpton, 73. “It’s been one thing after another, ever since we arrived Monday. The hot tub was consistently at just 99 degrees, no matter how much we complained. The thread count of our linens could not have been higher than 400, which means we essentially were sleeping in burlap sacks. And the weather! Fog in the mornings, showers in the afternoons and mosquitoes in the evening–do these people have no regard for their paying guests?”

As others in their small group nodded in agreement, a portly gentlemen in a white linen suit who declined to give his name summed up the overall sentiment. “I’m all for roughing it and getting out into nature,” he said. “But there are limits!”

[Editor’s note: this should go without saying, but this post is a satire–just barely.]

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Nothing beats the great — indoors?

Waddya gonna do when you get that itch to hit the trail, sleep under the stars, cook over an open fire and embrace the great outdoors–but the great outdoors just isn’t all that welcoming? When the horizon is aglow with forest fires and the air is thick with ash, or the skies have opened up with downpours that wash away everything in their path, or the winds are howling with an incessant fury that. . . .

Well, hell. Why not take the great outdoors and simply move it indoors, right?

Welcome to the Basecamp Hotel in South Lake Tahoe, which has elevated (?) the glamping concept to a head-spinning new high with its “Great Indoors” rooms. Large safari tent: check. Camping chairs and picnic table: check. Electric fake log fire in front of a wall-size photorealistic view of the forest: check and check. But also a king-size bed with triple-sheeting, high-speed wireless internet, a walk-in shower–and Harrah’s Lake Tahoe casino mere steps away. How better to combine the best of all possible camping worlds?

Actually, it’s a toss-up whether you choose to view the Basecamp as a dystopian omen of the future for camping or as a witty bit of playfulness, perhaps evidenced by its replacement of the standard-issue Bible in each hotel room with the “Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook.” The playful touch is just light enough to have charmed a New York Times reviewer in December, who described it as having “the low-key, homespun feel of a hotel started by your hippest friends.”

Then again, one can wonder if this isn’t the logical evolutionary end-point of the whole glamping phenomenon. First started as an effort to make camping more comfortable, glamping quickly evolved into a quest for more and then still more luxury, from high thread-count linens to cappuccino machines to hot tubs. But despite all that opulence, such nuisances as pesky bugs and wind-driven rain persisted–so why not put the whole package inside four walls and under a roof, where every input can be controlled?

Why not (gasp!) invent a motel?

Two footnotes to the Basecamp Hotel. One, it doesn’t permit pets, so perhaps that’s taking the nature-at-one-remove a step too far. But two, and on the other hand, it also doesn’t have air conditioning, so that’s a bit of camping authenticity for you. Of course, that’s also the biggest source of complaints in the Basecamp’s online reviews, going to prove that you just can’t please everyone.

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