The camp host greeted us on a dirt bike at the campground entrance of Sand Lake Recreation Area. “I don’t know if there are any open sites tonight. Pretty busy being Saturday and everything,” he said to us through our open window.
We had pulled the trailer, down the winding roads of the scenic Oregon Coast, all day in the rain. Knowing that we would be looking for a place to stay over the weekend, I should have made campground reservations ahead of time. But I didn’t, and this was a big mistake.
“You can drive around and see if anything is open if you want,” the host said before he tore off down the sandy road on his motorcycle.
If we weren’t so tired, and if we hadn’t failed to find a vacant campsite earlier in the afternoon, we would have turned around and left then. But we didn’t. We headed down the camp road, committed to making the loop with our trailer in-tow.
A young mother pulled out in front of us on a bright red 4-wheeler ATV with knobby tires and a large triangular orange flag on the back. Two elementary school-aged kids followed behind on little 4-wheelers of their own. Off they sped through the campground.
The camp was full of big boxy trailers, barbecue grills, satellite dishes, and outdoor TVs; and in each site, was at least one all-terrain vehicle. Unexpectedly, we had stumbled upon one of the prime spots along the Oregon Coast for off-highway vehicle riding on sand dunes.
Campers were buzzing around the camp roads in dune buggies, quads, and dirt bikes. The noise level was deafening. We already knew that we could not stay here, even if a site was available. Our shiny Airstream trailer, with road bicycles on the top of our truck, must have looked out-of-place to the dune buggy crowd just getting back from a day of tearing up the sand. We just didn’t have the right equipment to fit in, and the stares from the other campers confirmed this. The campground turned out to be completely full, which made our decision to leave that much easier.
The sun was starting to go down, night would be upon us soon, and still we had to find a place to camp. As soon as I pulled into a turnout along the road to consult a map, a State Trooper pulled up alongside. Let’s see – Airstream trailer, Mississippi plates, lonely coastal road, rain, and darkness – we must have looked needy. The trooper happily directed us to a couple of RV parks that he thought had vacancies.
This brief encounter with the Oregonian ATV crowd reminded me of how stereotypes distort one’s expectations. These gas-burning, noise-making, fun-loving, sand-eating, non-tree-hugging, red-necks at Sand Lake Recreation Area seemed out-of-place in Oregon; but would have fit in just fine here in my home state of Mississippi.