Where the road takes them
KOA campground a temporary home for travelers passing through Moffat County
September 26, 2007
Craig — The two dogs, a pair of “alpha males,” are separated by a chain-length fence, but united in mutual dislike for the other. They crave the attention of their owner, Amanda Gillis, who sits at a picnic table a foot or two away, and are willing to bull-rush their sturdy metal cages to get it.
“You two hush,” says Gillis, a tinge of southern drawl in her voice. “They’re like a couple of brothers. Sometimes they don’t like each other.”
The German Shepherd is Reno and the Huskie is Vegas.
Gillis is outside her Prowler trailer at the Craig Kampgrounds of America site, east of town. With the sun at her back and a three-day trip turned into a seven-day travel nightmare behind her, she’s been in Craig for about a week.
Amanda and her husband, David, like it in Craig.
They’re surrounded by “good, friendly people,” with accommodations described with equally wandering names such as Eagle and Nomad. They like the weather because the lack of humidity eases their health complications, and they like the West.
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They like living, and working, at the KOA site.
Mainly, though, they like the freedom of not being tied down to any one spot.
“Working here covers the site expense and (gives us) some grocery money,” Amanda says. “We got the basics covered, and it feels freer. What more does anyone need?”
Amanda made the trip with her husband, and the two dogs (albeit in separate vehicles) from a KOA site in Louisville, Ky. They plan to stay in Craig for about six months.
Where they’ll go from there is anyone’s guess. They plan to live on the road for a while, traveling the American landscape with no particular plan or destination in mind, until they come across a place that feels like home.
For them, life on the road is nothing new.
“Can you tell we used to go through Nevada quite a bit?” Gillis says, looking back at the dogs, Reno and Vegas. “There’s some stories there, too.”
The Craig KOA has about 100 sites, and about half of those are earmarked for people staying at least one month. The monthly sites cost $350 per month; the remaining nightly lots rent for anywhere from $26 to $37 a night.
KOA is part of a national chain and is based out of Billings, Mont. The Craig KOA site boasts restroom, shower and laundry facilities, a game room, wireless Internet, cable hookups and a host of other amenities.
Most times, the campground is two-thirds full.
During busy times – hunting season, in particular – there isn’t an open site to be found. Because of an increase in energy industry jobs, drawing out-of-town employees, and a shortage of available housing, this is one of the busy times.
Craig resident Mary Carrera, herself no stranger to life on the road, has worked at the Craig KOA for three years. Her responsibilities vary from working in the office to cleaning.
She said the campground has had to turn some people away because it was full, and has developed a waiting list for people seeking a site.
Carrera said the KOA occupancy underscores the need for more housing in Craig and Moffat County.
“It’s just finding an apartment is tough here,” she said. “There’s no other way to live.”
She said people at KOA are like anyone else.
“Just regular people,” Carrera said. “Most of them have families and are just trying to make a living.”
Diana Bell and her husband, Thad Bell, have lived at KOA for four months. Originally from Washington, the Bells moved to the area for Thad’s energy-related job. They’ve been traveling for 10 months, and their stops have included California, Utah and Colorado.
The Bells will pick up again – the work taking them to the next as-of-yet-undesignated location – at the end of October.
Diana, who also works at KOA, said life in a trailer isn’t all that different from owning a home, which the Bells did in Washington.
“It’s just like being in a house,” she said, “only smaller.”
Living from place to place affords the Bells a chance to meet new people, explore the country and get away from crowds.
“We love it,” Diana said. “We figured we would never get to experience (traveling) any other way.
“Here, you see the real country. People are nicer, and it’s more laid back. Less populated.”
As Diana pointed out, Carrera has more experience than most when it comes to living a traveling lifestyle. From 1979 to 1985 she moved from state to state with her children and then-husband, who worked at power plants and refineries.
She uses her own experiences – in states like Wyoming, California, Montana, New Mexico and Alaska – as an example.
She planted potatoes in North Dakota. Met Navajo weavers in Farmington, N.M., was introduced to a scrimshaw artist in Alaska and saw Jackson Browne protest in San Luis Obispo, Calif. These aren’t experiences a person has every day, she said.
“When you visit a place for a week, you see the touristy things,” Carrera said. “When you live in a place, especially small towns, you get a feel for the life there.”
Craig became her permanent home eight years ago. Still, she appreciates the attraction that a traveling lifestyle offers.
“It’s different,” she said. “But, you get to see a lot of interesting places, and you get to meet a lot of interesting people.”
Amanda, who along with her husband has close to three decades of experience as long-distance truck drivers, said the couple plans to settle down some day. But not now.
They’re happy living a simple life. They work a combined 40 hours a week at KOA, get to explore the native country, and aren’t bogged down by the run-of-the-mill responsibilities and expenses owning a home requires.
“Life out of the camper has advantages,” she said. “You can pick up and go when you want to. Living expenses are cheaper. You don’t have as much stuff holding you down.”
If anything, the road will tell them when to stop.
“We’ve got a lot of places to try,” she said. “Now we’ll get to stop and smell the roses, so to speak.”