Dear Dr. R.V. Shrink:
I have read your columns about state parks being so expensive and I agree to a degree. I am in New Mexico and hear you can buy an annual pass for $100 as a resident and $225 as a non-resident and dry camp free all year in the New Mexico State Park system. If you want electricity, it costs $5 dollars per night. It sounds like a great deal, and to some degree it is. However, I can't always find a site because so many people are now living in the New Mexico Park system. After 21 days they have to move out for six, but I don't even think that is enforced. Low fees seem to equate to a high percentage of people living in their vehicles in state and local parks. I personally would like to see higher prices that would nip this problem in the bud.
--Evicted by vagrants in Valencia
Having stayed in many New Mexico state parks and having purchased just such a pass in the past, I have to say I think you may be exaggerating a bit or just had a bad experience and are wanting to vent a little. Venting is healthy, so I don't want to prevent you from blowing off a little steam, but let's examine the reality of the situation. I will start with your definition of a vagrant. I don't think it describes paying customers of New Mexico state parks. If you pay your money, you can play the game. These people are all camping legally. You may not like their rig or their lifestyle but they probably didn't take you into consideration when choosing their lifestyle. You should go over and introduce yourself to some of these people. You will find them very interesting. Some are a product of the great recession, and others just prefer a simple lifestyle. No matter what you have heard about, "size matters," it's not true. I was once busted in a Florida state park for sleeping in my Buick. I didn't appreciate it and did some major league venting myself. That just made the host go roust the ranger out of bed in the middle of the night, and when he arrived he already had a chip on his shoulder. Although there were people sleeping in utility vans in the site next to me, he said I could not sleep in my Buick. I threw my sleeping bag on the ground and started to climb in. He then told me I couldn't sleep on the ground without a tent. After asking him if he had ever heard of Daniel Boone he threatened to arrest me if I didn't erect proper camping gear.
I don't know what time of the year you find New Mexico parks so full of long-term campers that you can't get in, but I have never been turned away from a New Mexico state park with no vacancy. I don't think it is a common occurrence, but again, first come first serve. Not everyone living this lifestyle sleeps in a passenger vehicle. Many follow the sun in RV's of all sizes, move from park to park and spend a season or more in the system because they enjoy the scenery, the price, and yes, even the company. My suggestion would be to get out and mix a little, challenge your fears and prejudice, and just see if this changes your attitude about your surroundings while taking the same advantage of a system with beautiful parks and reasonable rates.
--Keep Smilin', Dr. R.V. Shrink