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Workamping At Arches National Park

 

Arches National Park is one of the most unique and beautiful parks in the west. It is located in Moab, UT – the center of outdoor pursuits in the southwest. There is world-class biking, 4-wheeling, hiking, climbing, river running and natural beauty. We were campground hosts at Arches for the months of March and April, 2007.

 

The campground at Arches National Park (NP) is located 18 miles from the entry gate to the park. It is a “primitive” campground of 54 sites, with three restrooms and dishwashing sinks. There are no hookups for the campers, and water is only available at the restrooms. There is no dump station in the Park; the nearest dump station is in Moab, about 23 miles away.

 

There are two campground host sites. One is a very nice cabin at the campground entrance. There is room to park an RV, but there are no RV hookups at the cabin site. The cabin has conventional residential bathroom facilities, a gas oven, gas residential heat and a solar-based electric system. The second host site (site 35) is an RV site located near the third restroom. We were located on the RV site.

 

The host RV site has sewer, water and electricity. The electric for the entire campground is solar based, although there is a large generator available for backup. This generator supports the maintenance complex which is about a mile away. It is rarely needed for the hosts, but can be manually switched to charge the host site batteries if required.  The RV site 35 (host site) solar array consists of twenty 48-volt solar panels on the roof of the restroom. Power from the solar array is stored in a bank of twenty four (24) 24-volt gel batteries, and processed through a Trace 4.1 kilowatt inverter. Fifty amp RV electrical service is available at the host site, on two 120-volt power legs (this is conventional campground wiring). The solar system is a large one, but it still only supports 4000 watts to the RV site (on each service leg). The “suggested” load is no more than 12 amps continuous. It will, of course, handle much higher peak loads. We had no trouble at all in running our microwave, with TV on, etc. pulling 22-25 amps AC for a couple of minutes. You can not, however, use a convection oven for cooking. It simply draws too much power for too long of a period. Plan on doing long oven cooking either with a gas oven, or outside on a gas grill – which is what we prefer, anyway. You can not run air conditioning on this system. You can run a single small electric space heater on the low setting for several hours, depending on the state of the battery bank. But you should plan to use non-electric heating devices for best results and comfort. Our experience with this system has been positive – we have no trouble in using all the normal RV items, including electric hair dryers, and all of our TV, lighting and computer needs. We use the microwave for short heating tasks, and use our outside gas grill for baking and in place of the convection oven. We do not bake in the convection oven. I even leave our truck plugged into the electric and on a trickle charger.

 

If necessary, you could supplement your power supply with your own generator. You would be restricted to running this during the normal generator hours; 0800-1000, 1600-2200 hrs.

 

The prime months (in our opinion) to host in Arches are March, April, May and October. March may be cold at the beginning of the month, but rapidly warms up. We hosted in March and April. In late February we had snow but it rapidly melted. In early March we had a week of very cold weather, with the low going down to 15 degrees. Daily highs during this period were in the 40’s, but with the sun out and little wind it was actually quite nice outside. We used about 40 lbs (9.3 gallons) of propane a week during late February and early March (we arrived Feb. 26). The Park will reimburse you for your propane, but you have to get it in town. In the case of a motorhome, it is most convenient if you have an “extenda-stay” connection to your propane tank that enables you to use external cylinders. There are two twenty pound propane cylinders in the host shed at site 35 that you can use, but this requires your motorhome to be plumbed properly. I strongly suggest you do this if you plan to be hosts in March or October.

 

Site 35 (the host RV site) has room for a large rig, but it may be a little tight on the left side and at the door in a motorhome. Especially a motorhome in the 39’-44’ range. This would put your entry door (assuming it is a front-entry rig) very close to a juniper tree. Fifth wheels actually fit in the site more conveniently, because of the tree and power post locations. Our 38’ fifth wheel fit in just fine, with room in front of it for our semi-truck and Jeep. We are taking up the entire lot, though. A 40’ fifth wheel would fit the same as our 38’. The Park has promised to extend the site rearward, but they have been saying this for at least a year.  There is plenty of room for a fire pit, chairs, picnic table, etc. to the curb side of the RV. The site has a nice fire ring, but you must obtain your own firewood. Usually, there are enough scraps left in the campground to support at least three fires a week.

 

The “Work”

 

As with most hosting jobs, your primary responsibility is to act as a presence in the campground, perform fee compliance, and help campers with questions. This is especially the case in Arches, where the campground is 18 miles from the visitor center.

 

The campsites are divided into “first come, first served” and reservation sections. The reservations are handled outside the Park system by ReserveUSA, so the Park has little control over the reserved sites other than helping people find them. The Hosts do have control over the non-reservable sites (called Category 1 sites). Because the campground is so far from the entry gate, and to avoid the problem of people driving eighteen miles only to find a full campground, the Park requires that people obtain a camping site envelope at the park entrance gate. These envelopes are given out at 0730 on an available basis. Leftover sites (not given out at the 0730 “lineup”) are given out at the gate as people request campsites. There are only 24 sites available via this method (the rest – sites 25 to 54 - are on the reservation system). In order for the Visitor Center to know how many sites are available, the Hosts call in the number of sites that will be available for the next day at 1700 hrs the day before. At 0630 the on-duty Hosts walk the campground and remove the registration slips from the sites of people leaving that day. New category 1 campers may then select sites from those available (those with empty boxes) – sites in category 1 are not assigned.

 

The Host’s primary job is to maintain a compliance sheet containing all campsites. They collect registration info from the tickets at the campsites, or directly from the campers. This includes license plate number, number of people, number of tents, etc. Providing this info, pulling the tickets in the morning, and calling in the available sites at 1700 hrs means the host needs to make a pass through the campground at least 3 times a day – 0630 hrs., sometime mid-day, and 1600 hrs. At 2000 hrs we generally drive the campground in the supplied golf cart to ensure compliance with generator hours.  There is no requirement to walk the campground – you can drive the cart if you want - but the 0630 pass is best done on foot, since you have to look at every site box. The campground “round” is about 1.2 miles – the 0630 round takes about an hour. We combine the 0630 round with walking our dog. This is the “hardest” part of the job, but has some great side benefits – such as seeing spectacular sunrises over the red rock. 

 

The duty cycle is an alternating 3 or 4 days on, followed by 4 or 3 days off – so you work basically half a week. When on duty you are responsible for all aspects of the campground – site compliance, selling firewood, answering questions, handling problems and emergencies – 24hrs a day. Generally, you can get to bed by 2130-2200 hrs. but in rare instances you may be up later. People asking for firewood are rare after 2100 hrs. Generally, any late night “knocks on the door” are because of 1) “Someone is in my campsite” or 2) Noise. This does not happen often, in our experience, and you will learn how to minimize it.

 

When on duty, only one of you has to be at the campground – the other can go to town and shop, wash clothes, etc. However, the 0630 round is best done together. When not performing other duties the on-duty hosts can relax at their site, work on their rig, etc. But one must remain available in the campground.

 

There is no requirement to perform maintenance, clean fire pits, maintain or clean restrooms, pick up trash, etc. Some hosts do clean fire pits and pick up trash. We pick up trash where we see it, but do not generally clean fire pits. We will remove bottles and trash from fire pits if we notice it.

 

Communication to the rest of the Park system is via commercial radio. There is a repeater on the La Sal Mountains so reception is generally very good. The radios are high quality and generally clear and understandable. You will have to learn proper radio protocol. In emergencies your radio is your primary method of communication. Cell phones will reliably work from the campground only if you have an external antenna and an amplifier. Without an amplifier you will have intermittent service even with an external antenna. If you have a personal requirement for constant cell phone availability I strongly suggest you buy an amplifier and external antenna. The Wilson products work well and are available at www.primecellular.com.

 

Emergencies and backup support is handled by Park Law Enforcement Rangers. They are available 24 hrs a day, but the reality is that at night you may not be able to directly contact them via radio. Even during the day they may be as many as 18 miles away. In a true emergency you have two options if you can not directly contact Law Enforcement Rangers. The first is to use your cell phone and dial 911. This puts you in direct contact with County emergency dispatch. They are familiar with the Park system, have the contact numbers for the Rangers, and will directly contact them on your behalf or provide other assistance as required. You can also contact the County Dispatch Center via your radio, on a different channel than the Park uses. This is the same channel that civilian law enforcement uses. The Law Enforcement Rangers are great to work with and will be your primary contact with Park personnel. They go out of their way to be helpful.

 

Medical emergencies are coordinated with the Park Law Enforcement Rangers. There are trained EMTs that are generally the first responders. These may be law enforcement, or other Park employees. Generally the response is fast and overwhelming – they take medical calls seriously, and have a good protocol worked out. However, if you have a life threatening emergency in the campground or far out in the Park they may not get to you in time. It just depends where people are. Serious injuries/medical conditions, and any case where the person was ever unconscious, are air lifted out to Grand Junction, CO, which is the nearest trauma hospital. 

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