Trip Report: Jellystone Park (Quarryville, Pa.)

Recreational flexibility. Having a Class B RV like Roxanne means we can get up and go fast, sleep almost anywhere when we’re tired, yet have the comforts of home along with us. Last weekend, we learned a little bit about the freedom not to travel.

Whaa?

I should probably explain. We were scheduled for a camping weekend with some friends at Jellystone Park in Pennsylvania, about two hours from home. Late last week, the heavens opened and dumped a ridiculous, winter-like amount of rain on the DC area. I worked a full day on Friday. Penny (the dog) hates thunderstorms and was going to stay home with a sitter. The idea of driving through heavy rain, in rush hour and then at night, for two hours wasn’t appealing. Nor was pulling up to an unfamiliar campsite during a storm, trying to sleep with the rain pounding our metal roof or wondering if our house and dog were going to be okay.

So we texted our friends, called the campground, stayed home Friday night — the house and dog were fine despite receiving nearly 11 inches of rain in a day — and headed out for the trip first thing Saturday morning.

How did having a small RV make it easier to stay home? Simple. It makes heading out for a trip almost effortless. We simply grab our cold stuff from the fridge, our snacks from the kitchen, our backpacks with our clothes, and hit the road. It used to take us hours to prepare for a camping trip when we were car camping with a tent. The mile-long packing list. The trying to jam everyone and everything into the vehicle. The hoping our cold stuff wouldn’t spoil in a cooler with ice. And the inevitably irritable late departure, followed by all the unpacking and setting up when we’d arrive.

All of that effort would hit us with the sunk cost fallacy on a short trip. We’d be tempted to tough it out on the Friday night because of all the planning and packing, and that would mean a night in the tent during a rainstorm. Or, even worse, we’d be tempted to bag the whole operation because going up and back, with all the setup and take-down, wouldn’t be worth it for a 30-hour trip.

Not so for last weekend. We woke up reasonably early, with a calm dog and a dry house, hit the road and met up with our friends before lunchtime. It had apparently rained buckets in Pennsylvania too, and they had a tin roof on their cabin with some noisy neighbors. I was grateful for having had a good night’s rest. They offered to give us some time to settle in, which was nice. But after backing into our campsite, I literally had to unfold three chairs and plug in the electric before we were free to enjoy the rest of the trip. And sandwiches.

Trip report time…

So what is Jellystone? Longtime readers will remember this is our second trip, with our first to the park near Hagerstown, Md. last year. It’s a national, franchised chain of facilities loaded with the Hanna-Barbera cartoon imagery of our youth, and these sit somewhere between an expensive private campground and a cheap amusement park in the hierarchy of family destinations. I’m not sure how well-known it is. I grew up within a few miles of one and didn’t know it was there. I was also talking to a colleague who has two kids and lives less than an hour away from where we went, and he’d never heard of the place.

The Pennsylvania version was in the middle of farm country — right in between two farms, in fact. It struck me as a little smaller than our last one, with the campsites pretty close together and not a ton of bathrooms. The sites are well-maintained and have plenty of shade. We had a nice location close to the cabins and the playground. It was a “deluxe” RV site, not in size but because it had full hook-ups. Reservation rate was $120 a night for a minimum two-night stay. All of the activities are included, and there is a food truck and an extensive gift shop on the property.

Jellystone Parks have small water parks inside, and this one was no exception. Last year, in Maryland, we spent almost all of our trip in the water because of the scorching hot weather. But this year, it was cool and drizzly outside. The kids got a little swim on while the adults watched from the outside.

We had the perfect weekend for outdoor activities that would have been unbearable in ordinary late July weather on the East Coast. Took the kids mini-golfing and watched them on the playground. Played shuffleboard for the first time, which was a lot of fun even though I’m just approaching middle age. Went on a “hey ride,” which is similar to a hay ride except you yell “hey!” at every person you pass along the way.

The park was sporting an odd Christmas in July theme this particular weekend, which meant a campsite decorating contest that made me wonder how long some of our neighbors were staying. Santa Claus was riding around on a golf cart. We saw a helicopter circling the campground and later learned it was dropping thousands of marshmallows over an open field for people to catch. We squished through some of the leftovers as we walked to our campsite, then watched the ants and the dogs eat their fill. I still have no idea why this is a thing.

All three of us got a good night’s sleep and a little breakfast. Checkout is at 11, but we packed up the van, dumped the tanks at our site and parked in the overflow lot. We were able to hit the water park for a few much sunnier hours.

Grateful for a private place to change clothes in the RV and our own bathroom to hang up our wet suits, we ambled back onto the country roads to head for home. And I encountered something I wasn’t used to while driving.

Amish families in horse-drawn buggies. Lots of them. On a Sunday drive.

Navigating the twisty and often hilly roads with picturesque rows of corn on either side, I had to decide whether to ignore my driver’s ed training and cross a double-yellow line to pass the buggies, or obey the law, spook the horses and irritate the seeming dozens of motorcycle riders who had assembled themselves directly behind me. Ultimately, I started passing and ditched the bikers too.

What a contrast: I was driving this state-of-the-art vehicle that engineers and designers had packed with everything a small family needs to live inside for a weekend, past a mode of transportation that really hadn’t changed much in thousands of years. And we had taken our trip in search of some simplicity.

My guess is that the Sunday drivers didn’t have to look very far to find theirs.


Originally published at Chasing Minimalism.

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