When John Steinbeck first loaded up his camper and set off on a cross-country trip with his black French poodle, Charley, back in 1960, recreational vehicles were an unusual sight. As he traversed the United States, explaining himself, and his RV, which he dubbed Rocinante, to the bemused people he encountered along the way, he found a kinship. “I saw in their eyes something I was to see over and over in every part of the nation—a burning desire to go, to move, to get under way, anyplace, away from any Here,” he later wrote in Travels with Charley. “They spoke quietly of how they wanted to go someday, to move about, free and unanchored, not toward something but away from something. I saw this look and heard this yearning everywhere in every state I visited. Nearly every American hungers to move.”
That deep yearning would ultimately make recreational vehicles nearly as commonplace as 18-wheelers on US highways in the following decades. In recent years, however, these rolling embodiments of American wanderlust had developed a reputation as a bit passé, if not declassé. (Who can forget the image of Cousin Eddie peeling out in his dilapidated RV to go get Clark Griswold the perfect present in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, after all?)
But while they may not have been the look everybody was going for at the start of 2020, since then RVs have been experiencing a comeback. Shortly after RV dealers began reopening last May the industry saw a 170 percent sales increase compared to May 2019, while many RV rental companies saw a 1,000 percent increase in bookings during that same period, according to industry reports. The trend has only continued as we have all struggled to find ways to handle life—and vacations—in the midst of a pandemic. And it makes sense. Cabin fever–stricken folks across the country, having spent weeks and months in public-health quarantine, are desperate for ways to get out of the house while keeping themselves and their loved ones safe from Covid-19—and they’re finding an outlet in motorhomes.
That’s right: the RV is back, with families piling into camper vans, sleek trailers, and tricked-out coaches “to look for America,” as Paul Simon has neatly described it. And luckily for Houstonians, we’ve got front-porch access to the best place in the country to do just that: the American Southwest, with its vast expanses of canyons, mountains, forests, lakes, and rivers that are unrivaled in their majesty and variety.
If you’re wanting to get on board yourself—whether you’re just looking to get the feel of the RV lifestyle or you’ve been RV-ing since you were a tot—we humbly offer this RV guide to the Southwest. In it we’ve got you covered with all the places to go, stay, and eat while on the road, as well as answers to your FAQs, advice on great gear, and more. And, of course, we point you to all the attractions that you simply must see along the way.
A word to the wise, though: Pandemic safety precautions shift as the virus numbers go up and down in specific regions, so be sure and check into the frequently changing schedules and policies at parks, restaurants and places to stay before setting out. From there, just remember, once you’re on the open road, where it leads is entirely up to you. Yes, there will be surprises once you set out, but, as 2020 has continually reminded us, that’s life—so get out and enjoy it.