Outdoor Afro Goes Glamping "Kamping" with KOA!

“Did we really just go camping?” I asked myself as we pulled up to our house this afternoon and unloaded our clothes and remaining weekend groceries from the trunk. I realized there was no gear to put away; no layers of dirt to wash off our bodies, and I felt rested and energized for Monday. “No,” I realized, “we did not go camping, we went ‘Kamping’!”

Awesome! Fabulous! Wonderful!

These are some of the words that come to mind after such a terrific weekend at California’s Central Coast near Santa Cruz camping with KOA with my Arwen and Billy, plus family friend Milan Martin. KOA is a private campground franchise with over 475 locations around the country. As part of our partnership with Camp California to demonstrate the various ways families can choose to camp, we decided to try a KOA for our third RV experience.
Unique about KOA are the many options to experience camping. You can sleep under the stars in a tent, pull up in an RV, or stay in a cabin or lodge. Some KOA sites offer novel arrangements such as the iconic Airstream, a Tree House or a Caboose! In addition to the sleeping options, there are many recreational activities available on site, such as swimming, mini golf, banana bikes, a climbing wall, playground, horseshoes, basketball, volleyball, and outdoor movies during peak season.

We stayed in a lodge, which I learned is technically classified as an RV since it can be hitched up and rolled out, but inside and out the structure screamed condo! We had a sleeping loft, a private bedroom (linens provided), and bathroom with shower. The kitchen was equipped with a fridge/freezer, sink, microwave, coffee maker, plates and utensils. There were electrical outlets everywhere, wireless internet, and a flat screen TV – so off the hook!

Nice, Nice, Nice

I think the staff here must train with the folks from Disneyland. I am pressed to remember a time when I have encountered such over-the-top positive, welcoming, and attentive customer service anywhere. Checking in and out was a breeze, and everyone made sure we had what we needed in between with a smile or a good joke.

The guests were super nice too, and we noticed this KOA attracts diverse visitors from around the world. Poolside we overheard several languages spoken, and made some new local camp friends Saturday who plotted to join us later in the evening for s’mores. Maintenance of the property was impeccable, clean, and there was a well-stocked camp store in case you forgot anything from home.

This central California coast KOA property sits between the Monterey Bay Aquarium and Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, and is less than a mile away from a few beaches that overlook the Pacific Ocean.  As I have learned from our previous RV experiences, KOAs can be used as a basecamp to explore surrounding nature and other attractions nearby.

Check out the rest of our photos!

While a KOA might not hit the sweet spot of a back country or public park enthusiast, a novice or otherwise apprehensive camper with kids of all ages will find a comfy camp option for the entire family to enjoy. Overall, I found the KOA trip to be a cool hybrid experience that allowed us to mix-up the comforts of home with nearby nature.  As a mom traveling alone with three school age children, this was camping that could not have been made more easy, fun, and affordable.
Learn more about KOA “Kamping”, and check out our other RV adventures over the last year.
Thank you Camp California, KOA and its marvelous Santa Cruz staff for supporting such a wonderful experience to share with the Outdoor Afro community!
Photos courtesy of Jeff Crider and Rue Mapp

Camping in Comfort: An Outdoor Afro RV Experience

“Concerns about dirt, crawly critters, outhouses, bears, and bugs top the list of real and imagined outdoor pet peeves.”

If you have been following Outdoor Afro for a while, I am sure you have gathered by now that we are striving to connect people to the outdoors in a variety of ways. But far too often, I hear people say they don’t like to camp, or fear trying because of perceptions about what must be given up in order to experience nature. Concerns about dirt, crawly critters, outhouses, bears, and bugs top the list of real and imagined outdoor pet peeves.

So for all our camp fearing friends, we dedicate this series of California RV trips to you. Outdoor Afro, along with sponsors Camp-CaliforniaEl Monte RV, and Big Sur Campgrounds and Cabins, aim to share a way people can camp within another comfort zone, while enjoying the all splendor of the Great Outdoors.

As you may already know, we embarked on our first RV trip using a teardrop trailer last summer, but this past weekend, the four of us rolled in a motor home to Big Sur, California. And all I could say for the first six-hours of our trip was…wow. Our late model RV was well equipped with a stove, microwave, granite counter tops, refrigerator/freezer, flat screen monitor, three large beds, and a bathroom with a sink, shower, and flush toilet. All I had to bring was enough food for the weekend; pots and pans, bedding, and we were more than good to go!

I have to admit, in my roaring child-free 20’s, I viewed RVing as non-committal camping. I thought there was too much of a buffer between the outdoors and the personal experience. Over the years, I have camped in all sorts of conditions, from rainy and wet in a leaky tent, to nestling on the ground on a foam pad between rock formations; to platform tents with cots at family camp – so I found the RV experience to be something completely new, yet really familiar at the same time.
And I’ve got a whole new attitude about it.
Maybe there is also something about turning the big 4-0 that has slowed my roughing it roll to a skip. As a mother, I no longer feel the need to test the limits of ease with three kids in tow in order to experience nature. This weekend’s experience met me more than half-way in the comfort department, uncompromising in its connection to the outdoors. And my children were all smiles. Together, we enjoyed the amenities of home on the road and arrived in a pop-up community along a beautiful river amidst the redwoods.

Next Up…Discovering Big Sur

Follow Our Upcoming RV Trip to the California Coast!

Our next RV trip will be October 21-23 in Big Sur California!

Following our last Outdoor Afro RV trailer trip to the Sierras this summer, we have been thrilled and grateful for the positive responses from the RV community, and many news outlets that are helping spread the word that African Americans do love the outdoors, and inspiring people to get involved!

For instance, as the result of one recently published article, I received a Saturday morning telephone call from an elderly Atlanta woman who got my number from the print version of the article. She owned a trailer, and asked if I had any advice about how she could find other African Americans RVers. Since her husband passed away, she yearned to camp, yet needed support.  While on the phone with her, I did a quick web scan and was able to put her in touch with a regional coordinator from the National African American RVers Association right in her hometown. She was thrilled! I so valued my leisurely chat with her;  learning about her love for nature, and glad to connect her to a relevant resource.
These are the kinds of real-time, authentic connections we hope to facilitate through Outdoor Afro — helping camping, and a general enjoyment of nature, be more accessible and relevant to the lives of all Americans.

So on Friday, October 21st, my family will ease on down  Highway 1, explore the coast, and camp two nights at Big Sur Campground and Cabins that will serve as our base camp as we explore the many hiking trails, waterfalls, and scenic coastline in the Big Sur area. I also hope to explore some of the local African American history of the area.

Of course, we will videotape, tweet and blog about the trip so Outdoor Afros everywhere can follow along and share in my family’s experiences as we explore the splendor of the outdoors!
I want to acknowledge and thank Camp CaliforniaBig Sur Campground and Cabins, and El Monte RV, who are each generously co-sponsoring and promoting this trip! – You Rock!

Discovering Important History During Our RV Experience

Our last stop before turning in our teardrop trailer on Sunday was to check out nearby Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park. It was our intention to learn about gold panning and history of the California Gold Rush.
James W. Marshall discovered gold in 1848 on the South Fork of the American River in the valley known as Cullumah by the Nisenan Indians who lived in the area sustainably and peacefully. But Marshall’s discovery led to the greatest mass movement of people in the Western Hemisphere, and it was the spark that ignited the rapid appropriation of the West during the ensuing decades. The gold discovery site, located in the still visible tailrace of Sutter’s sawmill, in present day Coloma California, is one of the most significant historic sites in the nation.
But as my children and I moved about the site, we were surprised to learn about a nugget of African American history in the area: The Monroe Family.

Monroe Family

According to Bill, our interpreter, Monroe was the grandson of Peter and Nancy Gooch, who were freed from slavery when California became a state in 1850. The Monroe family in particular became successful fruit farmers and prominent property holders in Coloma. The family grew and prospered with an estate that grew to eighty acres.

For decades, the Monroes were well liked and respected for their integrity, good citizenship, and an insistence on being accepted as they were. The end of this pioneering family came in 1988 when its last member, Jim Monroe died at the age of 99. Unfortunately, the Monroes did not have any heirs; therefore their land is now preserved as a public monument to remember an important era of California history.

As we left the park, I felt a deep sense of gratitude for the opportunity to learn about a history that connected us as African Americans to the local landscape in a profound way. And had we never ventured to the area for our RV experience, it is not something we would have ever likely known.
Our family is grateful for Marshall Gold Discovery State Park, especially the park staff, who did a fabulous and forthright presentation of the remarkable Monroes, who my family will remember as part of this trip for a lifetime.

Follow the trip from the beginning!

Outdoor Afro Goes White Water Rafting!

It was important that our RV adventure last week include activities to help us explore the surrounding, beautiful Sierra Nevada region. And with the American River in sight of our campground, whitewater rafting made perfect sense.

According to a poll taken in 2010, of the top five activities Outdoor Afros would try if they had the support and resources is white water rafting. For our RV adventure, we were fortunate to arrange a rafting trip on the American River in the Sierra Nevada region of California courtesy of American Whitewater Expeditions.

Getting Started
Within our first RV experience, it was also the first time we had ever rode rapids on a raft. As a family, we have kayaked, sailed, motored, and of course swam in lakes, oceans, and backyard pools, but this was a different proposition. I decided for this first time experience to go with my son Seth (14), (his first time too), with the younger children and my nephew remained at camp to enjoy the pool for the afternoon.
Along the American River there are several companies that provide a range of whitewater experiences. You can choose half or full day tours, and each typically come with meals, and experienced instructors who educate and enliven the experience.
American Whitewater Expeditions (AWE) has been around for over 30 years as a premier whitewater rafting company on the American River. While researching them, I learned they have a reputation of quality rafting adventures that are exciting, relaxing, and most importantly, lots of fun! Jon, the owner, suggested we take the a full-day tour of the Lower Fork of the river, as a trip more suited for beginners, but with lots of whitewater action.

Cool Rapids!
While we ran late Saturday morning (due to taking a wrong turn on the road), Jon called me on my cell phone to reassure me that they would not leave without us – whew! Once we arrived, we were in the hands of friendly guides who gave us a safety talk, outfitted us with helmets, personal floatation devices, and a paddle. And an important safety tip we received, should we end up in the water, was to keep our feet up out of the water to ward off getting our legs caught up in rocks below the surface.

Rough Water!
It also was not necessary to bring our own camera, since professional photographers position themselves along the route and at key rapids to catch the most dramatic moments. We were grateful for Sierra Nevada Photos operated by Julie and Andrew Boucher who did an awesome job capturing the trip and provided us with a CD of dozens of hi-res images, some of which are featured here:

My son and I opted to ride with AWE guide Kaitlyn, who was a bubble of fun, another couple from San Jose, CA, and their two older teen boys. At first, my own son was a little reserved, and a bit hesitant to jump in the water at the optional swimming times or play balancing games, too concerned about his shoes getting wet.
Our trip covered about 15 miles, which lasted five hours, with breaks to jump in the water for a cool swim, and a terrific spread for lunch along the river. Kaitlyn was the source of much laughter with her funny jokes and river trivia. The views of the canyon were simply stunning on this summer day, and we saw interesting birds and other wildlife, such as a rarely spotted river otter!
As the ride went on, I noticed my son cared less about his shoes, and became more courageous! And at the climax of the trip, at a rapid named Hospital Bar, he volunteered to “ride the bull” and take on the rapid while sitting atop the front of the raft. We all wailed with laughter as he predictably got soaked, and fell back into the raft with his feet sticking straight up!

Ride the Bull
Feet Up!
So for me, this trip not only was about trying a new outdoor experience, but a chance to meaningfully connect with my teenage son, with whom there are fewer activities these days we can mutually enjoy, while preserving his sense of “cool”. The trip ended with a feeling of exhilaration, and cool drinks in the canyon, from where we were transported back to base camp by bus.
Would we do it again? Oh yes! American Whitewater Expeditions provided an exceedingly competent, fun, and accommodating experience for all.    AWE provides raft trips on the three forks of the American, South, Middle & North Forks, Class III -V, and I also discovered they have a fabulous family-friendly campsite on the river that provides camping the night prior, lunch on the river, and use of a thick foam sleeping pad. Two and  four person cabin tents are available to rent, some with cots, tents if you need one, and great food you can purchase as a weekend rafting package!
So if you plan to visit the area, I highly suggest connecting with AWE to help you have an awesome rafting experience, but also to help create memories with your family to last a lifetime like I did with my son Seth.
Outdoor Afro thanks American Whitewater Expeditions and Sierra Nevada Photos, and their staff for sponsoring such a perfect day!

Next up: African American Connections to the Sierra Nevada!

A First Time RV Experience

It’s been a wonderful summer of travel for Outdoor Afro, but the highlight was our RV Trip to the Sierra Nevada region in California last week! Check out our story…

First off, my family remains filled with gratitude for the support of Camp California, the leader in camping and RV’ing in California. With their partnership, we were able to spread the word far and wide about this fun filled event, and connect with trip sponsors with the shared goal of connecting more Americans to nature through the RV experience. We are also thankful for proud sponsor American River Sales in Auburn, who generously provided us with one of their innovative teardrop trailer designs, and Ponderosa Resort who provided a rich base camp for our Sierra Nevada adventure.
This was the first time my family had ever had an RV experience, and in this case, towed a trailer along to set up camp in an RV Park, in spite of many years of tent camping and a range of other outdoor experiences. Over these two years in the Outdoor Afro community and beyond, I have heard the persistent concerns about wildlife and dirt as being a major reason why some African Americans choose not to camp.
Therefore, it was our goal in this trip to demonstrate that you can camp with comfort, yet find ways to enjoy nature too! In our case, we planed to use both the teardrop trailer and a tent to accommodate the entire size of our party. Getting the trailer hitched was a cinch thanks to the expertise of Gary from American River Sales. The trailer came with a long list of cooking supplies, utensils, and a stove, so all we had to bring was food and our favorite spices!

I have to admit I was a little nervous towing something (anything) behind my car, but as we moved along the curves of the Sierras toward our campsite, my confidence and excitement grew in anticipation of the weekend ahead.

As we pulled into Ponderosa Resort  in Lotus, CA, about 17-miles beyond the rental site and midway to the town of Placerville, we were greeted with friendly staff that let us know we could choose any site we wanted that was available. Ponderosa Resort is situated along the American River and near Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park. The resort is a classic! Imagine the South Fork American River running through your front yard and the golden color of the Sierra foothills reflecting off your sunglasses? In addition to a swimming beach, it had many amenities to enhance our experience, such as a store, swimming pool, and family center with board games, pool table, television, and wireless internet.

After driving around the entire site, we decided on a wonderful corner spot with a view of the American River, where pulling in was easy — and thankfully near a fully equipped restroom. As soon as we were set up, the kids squealed off down the road to the swimming pool for an evening cool down and opportunity to make new friends. What struck me immediately was the feeling that this was a kind of pop-up or flash community, mirroring a popular trend these days among food and retail outlet events. While temporary, I felt that the unique experience can leave such a lasting impression for the participant because of the variable locations and people.

With limited time to spend at a site like this, there was also a more immediate sense of welcoming among our fellow campers that maximized a sense of neighborhood. Everyone who walked by our campground had a friendly word or a smile, and our teardrop trailer was the belle of the ball with a design unlike any other at our resort.

But we were especially impressed at the elaborate set-up of some of our neighbors, who we could tell had been doing this kind of camping for a long time. Some groups were large parties that had up to three RVs all connected by a string of festive lights at night and were full of revelry. Mark and his wife Ann, our nearest neighbors, shared that they were full-timers, meaning they RV year-round, exploring the entire country, one campground at a time. Outside their RV, they had a cool mist system under their shade canopy, which was an enviable feature on hot Sierra afternoons.

Preparing our food was also a wonderful experience using the stove provided in our teardrop, I was especially inspired by Evanne Schmarder’s website the RV Cooking Show, where she shares many recipes tailored to the RV experience. The kids and I enjoyed creating together our own recipe improvisation of grilled salmon with garlic and lemon, steamed veggies, and a Caesar salad our first night. Yum!
My younger kids did not even mind doing dishes!

After a day of flawless travel and set-up, we were all ready for bed early, with my nephew and son Seth in the tent, and my two younger children and I ready to sleep comfortably in the trailer. We very much looked forward to our river rafting trip the next day.

Next up: American River Rafting!

Outdoor Afro Goes RVing!

THIS Weekend! – and you get to come too!


On Aug. 12th to 14th I will take Outdoor Afro to the foothills of the Sierra Nevada with my nephew and three children for a three-day camping trip at Ponderosa Resort in Lotus, California!
Camp-California.com and Ponderosa Resort are co-sponsoring my trip along with Auburn-based American River Sales and Rentals, which is supplying a teardrop trailer for our use. They are equally eager to learn of our experiences, and how they can expand their collective efforts to reach out to the African American community and get us involved in the Great Outdoors.
Another goal of this trip is to share an outdoor camp experience that still reserves a few creature comforts that the most tentative campers can appreciate. So I want to share how RVing or trailer camping is a terrific option for those who feel intimidated to try more rustic camping experiences.
Over the course of the weekend, we plan to do a day of white river rafting, thanks to our friends at American Whitewater Expeditions, and explore the surrounding California Gold Country. I also plan to test my culinary skills with some RV friendly recipes. From camp, I will tweet, blog and film all of our fun so that the Outdoor Afro community can follow our journey and share in our experiences.
See the full press releases HERE

We can’t wait!
How many of you RV already?

I Hate Camping!

Some of my best friends swear on a stack of <insert sacred item of choice> they hate camping, won’t ever go, and there is nothing I can do about it. But I know they could not possibly hate on the mobility of a car, the comforts of home, and the serenity of nature (from a distance) all rolled into one. Enter the Recreational Vehicle or trailer camping trip, an experience that can transform what most people imagine about camping.
I know some of my traceless camping folks probably want to throw a pointy carrot at me for the mere mention of this gas guzzling option, but there are many variations, such as using a hip trailer (see above) hitched to a sedan and you don’t have to drive far necessarily as there are hundreds of campgrounds dotted all over the US.
Who says you have to buy an RV? There are many great companies who rent you the whole outfit just like a rental car by the day or mileage, such as El Monte RV and Cruise America. Some campgrounds have trailers on site available for rent as well.
It’s still not too late to book for the upcoming Labor Day weekend and several campgrounds are running specials, that include theme dinners, live music, local excursions and programs for people of all ages.
If you’re not up for driving an RV, several campgrounds have cabins, such as the Albion River Campground, south of Mendocino, California, which is one of the many sites promoted by the California Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds. This campground has private cottages with wood-burning stoves for chilly nights, in addition to trailer rentals and campsites for folks who have their own “rig“. And there are plenty of boating, fishing and kayaking opportunities nearby.
Don’t think black people RV? BUZZZ! Check out NAARVA, the National African American RV Association, a club who puts together a slammin’ rally, regular educational tours, and social events for all levels of participants!
So if you hate camping, give RV and trailer options a long look, or even a try before summer ends. You might be pleasantly surprised by how much you enjoy yourself!
photo courtey of squob.com

How did an Oakland girl like me come to love getting her camp on anyway? Pt. 3

After getting married and starting a family of my own, camping took on a new meaning. For just a short drive and little money, I found camping was one of the most economical ways my new family could take a vacation. During these years I collected essential camping gear, like our first family-sized tent and propane stove from local garage sales and eBay — my family still uses these items today.
But as my family grew, so did the effort of camping. Thus the city of Oakland’s Feather River family camp, situated about two- hundred miles north, became a very attractive option for us. For about $75 per day back then, our family could camp at their beautiful developed site where: three delicious meals a day were prepared (and announced with the toll of a bell), a kind nurse dispensed an endless supply of band-aids, platform tents and cots were already set up, and a refreshingly cool swimming hole was observed by attentive lifeguards. Another bonus of family camp, were the many fun, organized activities and special relationships we developed with the other Oakland families we joined each summer.
Now my children (ages 12, 7, and 6) love the outdoors and every February they begin humming camp songs around the house and double check with me to make sure we are registered for the upcoming summer season!
Aside from our annual Family Camp, we also venture out on local hikes or family bike rides at least monthly. My eldest son is a Boy Scout and he is now developing outdoor skills and going on camping trips with his peers just as I did at his age. I recognize that the fun my kids have now in the natural world is the foundation for a love and engagement with nature that lasts a lifetime and is likely to be shared with their own children.
I still do enjoy tent camping sometimes, but I find that as I approach the big Four-O, I more frequently choose to balance comfort with my outdoor fun — nights of sleeping on just a tarp under the stars have passed me by. I now fantasize often about a future of creeping along the highways in a well-equipped RV, enjoying each state of the Americas, one campground at a time.
Catch-up!: Part 1, Part 2